Skip to content

Update from the Gallery regarding COVID-19

The Art Gallery of New South Wales is open. We are observing strict physical distancing and hygiene measures to protect the health of visitors and staff and minimise the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Read the latest visit information, including hours




Australian art

View More:


Dry Salvages



John Olsen

Australia, England, Spain, Portugal

21 Jan 1928 -


My painting takes on its particular abstract quality because only in this way can I express my search for direct mystical experience. There is the feeling of an abyss, a void between oneself and everything outside, and one has the impulse to bridge it. The thing which I always endeavour to express is an animistic quality – a certain mystical throbbing throughout nature.

John Olsen, 1956

Taking its name from the title of a poem by TS Eliot, 'Dry salvages' explores the idea of being immersed in the natural world – an idea which was essential to John Olsen’s approach to painting. The painting was shown in the benchmark exhibition 'Direction I', held at Macquarie Galleries in Sydney in December 1956.




Media category


Materials used

oil on hardboard


119.0 x 90.9 cm board; 133.2 x 105.0 x 2.8 cm frame

Signature & date

Signed and dated u.r. corner, black oil "John/ Olsen/ 56".


Gift of Mrs EM Gardiner in memory of her daughter Marie Gardiner 1972


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

John Olsen

Artist profile

Works in the collection


Shown in 5 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 10 publications


George Berger, Meanjin, 'Notes on Sydney's art life-1956', pg. 74-76, Carlton, Autumn 1957, 74, 75. exhibition review

Sarah Couper, Look, 'Backstage: Deborah Edwards, Senior curator Australian art', pg. 11, Sydney, Nov 2015, 11 (colour illus.). Deborah Edwards photographed standing in front of Olsen's 'Dry Salvages’

James Gleeson., The Sun, 'Color, life in art', Sydney, 04 Dec 1956. exhibition review

Deborah Hart, John Olsen, 'The Pacific loan exhibition and direction one', pg. 25-31, Sydney, 1991, 29, 30 (colour illus.). 13

David Hurlston and Deborah Edwards (Editors), John Olsen: the You Beaut Country, Melbourne, 2016, 55 (colour illus.).

Macquarie Galleries, Direction 1, Sydney, 1956, n.pag.. 3; priced 100 guineas

Barry Pearce, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian', pg. 13-35, Sydney, 1988, 30.

Barry Pearce, Australian art: in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Landscape and gesture', pg. 239-240, Sydney, 2000, 242 (colour illus.), 301.

Virginia Spate, John Olsen, 'John Olsen', pg. 1-14, Melbourne, 1963, 6-7, 17, (colour illus.). colour plate no. 1

Project 41 - the mosaic, the grid, Sydney, 1983, 4 (illus.). 6