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Australian art

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Nightfall, when wattle stains the doubting heart



John Olsen

Australia, England, Spain, Portugal

21 Jan 1928 -


This noctural landscape is based partly on the environment around Wagga Wagga where Olsen lived in 1980 and was to remain until his move to Clarendon in South Australia in July the following year.

Inspired by the poem 'Terra Australis' by Australian poet James McAuley, 'Nightfall, when wattle stains the doubting heart' is more sombre in mood than his work of the previous decade. Ochres, yellows and browns have been replaced by the cool liquid colours of water and night, shot through with iridescent yellow.

Concerned with concepts of 'the void' and 'the edge', which were important for the artist in the 1970s and early 1980s, Olsen has created an atmosphere of serenity - a highly restrained and contemplatory apprehension of the Australian landscape.

In a 1993 interview, Olsen declared:
"I've learned that life isn't about travelling from peak to peak; life is the ability to travel in the valleys as well."

Australian Art Department, AGNSW, 2000


Place where the work was made

Wagga Wagga New South Wales Australia



Media category


Materials used

oil on canvas


167.0 x 167.0 cm stretcher; 168.5 x 169.0 cm frame

Signature & date

Signed and dated l.r. corner, blue oil "John Olsen ’80".


Purchased 1981


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

John Olsen

Artist profile

Works in the collection


Shown in 11 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 12 publications


Edmund Capon AM, OBE and Jan Meek (Editors), Portrait of a Gallery, 'Australian 20th Century Art', pg. 71-89, Sydney, 1984, 80 (colour illus.).

Edmund Capon AM, OBE, 10 Masterpieces of Australian Painting, Sydney, 1993, colour illus..

Betty Churcher, Australian notebooks, 'Art Gallery of New South Wales', pg. 45-90, Melbourne, 2014, 82, 83 (colour illus.), 84, 254.

Deborah Edwards, Two centuries of Australian painting: a selection from the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Introduction', pg. 8-14, Sydney, 1986, 46 (illus.). 54

Deborah Hart, Australian painters of the twentieth century, 'John Olsen', pg. 196-207, Sydney, 2000, 201, 205 (colour illus.).

Deborah Hart, John Olsen, Sydney, 1991, 150 (colour illus.), 151. 98

David Hurlston and Deborah Edwards (Editors), John Olsen: the You Beaut Country, Melbourne, 2016, 147 (colour illus.).

Barry Pearce, Art treasures: candidate citites for the 2000 Olympic Games: Beijing, Berlin, Brasilia, Istanbul, Manchester, Sydney, 'Nightfall, when wattle stains the doubting heart', pg. 178, Lausanne, 1993, 178, 179 (colour illus.). 10 Sydney

Barry Pearce, Australian art: in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Landscape and gesture', pg. 239-240, Sydney, 2000, 251 (colour illus.), 301.

Barry Pearce, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian', pg. 13-35, Sydney, 1988, 32.

Barry Pearce, Three years on: a selection of acquisitions 1978-1981, 'Australian Art', pg. 5-26, Sydney, 1981, 20 (illus.). 30

Gavin Wilson, The Big River show: Murrumbidgee Riverine, Wagga Wagga, 2002, 54, 55 (colour illus.), 83.