Although Nolan had little formal art training, his output was prolific, ranging from drawing to stage design. His practice developed as one of the artists based around John and Sunday Reed’s house, Heide, in Melbourne, and later was influenced by extensive travel.
Nolan often commented that the Kelly series was as much about himself as it was about the Irish renegade. The paintings reflect not only Nolan’s concern with the way myths are imprinted on the landscape, but relate to his own experience as an outlaw of sorts, after he deserted the army during World War Two. In 1981, Nolan received a knighthood.
First-class marksman 1946
Nolan was perhaps the most dazzlingly original artist of his generation in Australia. His fascination with the folk hero Ned Kelly developed from stories told by his grandfather, a trooper who had hunted down the fugitive bushranger in 1880. This painting refers to the Kelly gang practising their shooting while hiding out in Victoria’s Wombat Ranges. With a gun pointed at an unknown target and eyes wide with alarm, the work seems to anticipate violence. It is one of a seminal series produced by Nolan in 1946-47 depicting Kelly’s life and deeds.
- View First-class marksman in the collection
People and places
After a long family history of trouble with the police, Edward (Ned) Kelly went into hiding in the Victorian bush, where he were joined by his younger brother Dan and friends Joe Byrne and Steve Hart. The Kelly Gang, as they were known, was officially outlawed after killing three police officers in an ambush and committed a series of robberies over two years. All except Ned died in an infamous stand-off at Glenrowan Inn in 1880. Despite his now signature armour, Ned was wounded, captured and later hanged at Melbourne Gaol, aged 25. The son of poor Irish Catholics (his father was a convict), he is often seen as a symbol of working-class resistance against the establishment and British colonial rule.