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Australian art

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Drought skeleton



Sidney Nolan

Australia, England

22 Apr 1917 - 28 Nov 1992


In June 1952 Sidney Nolan travelled to the Northern Territory and Queensland, under commission from the Brisbane Courier-Mail, to record the effects of severe drought in the north of the continent. 'Drought skeleton', with its heat-seared bony remains, is one of a number of stark, uncompromising paintings created out of this harrowing experience.

Nolan’s approach was influenced by a recent visit to Italy where, during a visit to Pompeii, he had gained a similar sense of life suddenly suspended following the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. The contorted forms of animals and humans petrified in the ashes – of which he’d seen plaster casts in the Pompeii museum – bore strong similarities to the twisted, yet still life-like, limbs of carcasses that resulted from drought.


Other Titles





Media category


Materials used

oil on hardboard


90.5 x 121.0 cm board; 105.7 x 136.2 x 4.5 cm frame

Signature & date

Signed and dated lower c., yellow/ochre oil "NOLAN/ 53/ .".


Purchased with funds provided by the Nelson Meers Foundation 2002


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Sidney Nolan

Artist profile

Works in the collection


Shown in 6 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 30 publications


Brian Adams, Sidney Nolan: such is life, Melbourne, 1987, 121-122. NOTE: General reference.

Agnew's, London, 'You beaut country': a selection of Australian paintings 1940-2000, London, 2001, (colour illus.). 8, titled 'Carcass', £28,000

Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of New South Wales Annual Report 2004, Sydney, 2004, 19.

Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of New South Wales annual report 2003 [for the year ended 30 June 2003], Sydney, 2003, 9, 14.

Edmund Capon AM, OBE, Foundation Newsletter #2, Sydney, May 2003, (colour illus.).

Christie's, Australia Pty. Ltd. (Compilator), Christie's Australia: Books. Works on paper & Australian paintings, Sydney, Apr 1991, 73 (colour illus.). lot no. 233A; titled 'Carcase' [sic]

Jane Clark, Sidney Nolan - landscapes and legends: a retrospective exhibition 1937 - 1987, Sydney, 1987, 114. NOTE: General reference of Nolan's carcasses.

Sarah Couper, Look, 'God is a drover: Death in the outback', pg. 30-31, Sydney, Nov 2014, 30 (colour illus.), 31.

Laura Murray Cree (Editor), Art and Australia (Vol. 35, No. 3), Sydney, 1998, 320 (illus.). NOTE: Advertisement for AGNEW'S, London

David Jones' Art Gallery, Sydney, Sidney Nolan: Exhibition of Queensland outback paintings, Sydney, 1949. possibly 7; titled 'Drought'

Michael Gawenda (Editor in Chief), Age, 'AGNSW's new Nolan room', pg. 6, Melbourne, 22 Dec 2004, 6.

Peter Hill, The Sydney Morning Herald, 'Mix 'n' match', pg. 18, Sydney, 15 Jan 2005-16 Jan 2005, 18. NOTE: Spectrum supplement of Saturday's edition.

Alan McCulloch, Prisme de arts (No. 2), 'L'art contemporain en Australie', pg. 21-28, Paris, 15 Apr 1956, 23 (illus.). NOTE: titled 'Carcasse', dated 1952

Giucio Montagna (Editor), La Fiamma, 'Sydney [sic] Nolan at the Art Gallery of NSW', pg. 18, Leichhardt, 22 Dec 2004, 18.

Clare Morgan., The Sydney Morning Herald, 'Gallery sells off the family silver and strikes gold', Sydney, 21 Dec 2004, (colour illus.). NOTE: Image shows 'Drought skeleton' on display with Judith White, Nelson Meers, Sam Meers and Edmund Capon in front of work.

Elwyn Lynn, Sidney Nolan - Australia, Sydney, 1979, 116. NOTE: Reference to another Nolan Carass painting.

Barry Pearce, Look, 'Gift of three Nolans', pg. 11-12, Sydney, Jul 2003, 12 (colour illus.).

Barry Pearce, Frances Lindsay, Lou Klepac and Edmund Capon AM, OBE, Sidney Nolan, 'Drought, swamp, Kelly, Leda 1953-60', pg. 158-162, Sydney, 2007, 158, 160 (colour illus.), 235. 66

Peter Bray Gallery, Drought paintings by Sidney Nolan, Melbourne, 1953. 28; priced 150 guineas

Krystyna Pollar., The Australian, 'Nolan the nation's "greatest painter"', Sydney, 19 Dec 2004. NOTE: This article also appeared in Melbourne's 'Herald Sun' and 'Daily telegraph', Adelaide's 'Advertiser' and Brisbane's 'Courier mail', on 19 December 2004.

T.G. Rosenthal, Sidney Nolan, London, 2002, 130-133. NOTE: General reference of Nolan's carcasses.

Arnold Shore, Australasian post, 'Dead stock isn't the dish for everyone', pg. 37, Melbourne, 16 Jul 1953, 37 (illus.). NOTE: titled 'Drought skeleton'

Jill Skyes, Look, 'Doing justice to Nolan', pg. 8, Sydney, Mar 2005, 8 (illus.). NOTE: Nelson and Sam Meers and positioned infront of the painting.

Sebastian Smee., The Australian, 'Gallery makes room for foundation's gift of Nolans', Sydney, 21 Dec 2004, (colour illus.).

Geoffrey Smith, Sidney Nolan: desert & drought, 'Environment', pg. 92-100, Melbourne, 2003, 115 (colour illus.), 153. 65

Geoffrey Smith, gallery: ngv members magazine, 'Sidney Nolan: Desert & Drought', pg 5-7, Melbourne, Jul 2003, 5-7. NOTE: General reference. Article relates to Desert & Drought exhibition held at the NGV in 2003.

Sotheby's Australia (Compilator), Sotheby's: Fine Australian and European Paintings, Drawings, Prints, Photographs and Sculpture, including the Hugh Jamieson collection of contemporary art, Melbourne, Apr 1997, (colour illus.). lot no. 271; titled 'Carcass'

Dora Sweetapple, Architecture and arts, 'Sydney shows', pg. 36-37, Melbourne, Feb 1954, 36-37. NOTE: Review of Nolan David Jones' Art Gallery exhibition. Carass reproduced in another version.

Jill Sykes, Look, 'Nolan's Australia', pg. 28-31, Sydney, Oct 2004, 30, 31 (colour illus.).

Nolan: Everyone feels they know Nolan, but that is far from the truth, East Melbourne, 2018. DVD documentary