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Australian art

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Colonial head



Sidney Nolan

Australia, England

22 Apr 1917 - 28 Nov 1992


Nolan made several portraits of bushrangers and of an unmasked Ned Kelly. 'Colonial head' was painted as Nolan drew towards the end of his major Kelly series of 1946-47. The tie may derive from composite police photographs of the outlaw in which his head was collaged to the bodies of others, for identification purposes.

However, this painting may be as much about Nolan himself as any bushranger. It has a certain psychological intensity relating to the artist's personal situation at this time. The atmosphere at Heide, where he was living with his patrons John and Sunday Reed, had become emotionally claustrophobic and would end in his permanent departure for Sydney only three months later.




Media category


Materials used

Ripolin enamel on cardboard


76.2 x 65.5 cm board; 87.0 x 74.8 x 5.1 cm stretcher

Signature & date

Signed and dated l.r. corner, pencil "Nolan 1947".
Signed and dated l.l. corner verso on board, red crayon "4.4.47/ nolan".


Purchased with funds provided by the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales 2001


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Sidney Nolan

Artist profile

Works in the collection


Shown in 6 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 14 publications


Giles Auty, The Australian Weekend Review, 'Essential Nolan', pg. 13, Sydney, 28 Jun 1997-29 Jun 1997, 13. NOTE: Review of 'Nolan: a Reputation Reassessed' exhibition at Agnews.

Michael Feneley, Look, 'From the President', pg. 11, Sydney, Oct 2007, 11.

Bruce James, The Sydney Morning Herald, 'Pick of the crop for wily Capon: Gallery acquisitions analysis', pg. 16, Sydney, 12 Apr 2001, 16.

MacRae, Curtice & Co., Sidney Nolan: 1937 to 1979, Kent, 1979. not paginated; 25; Medium: Oil on board

William Packer, Financial times (London), 'Dark, personal gods and icons', pg. 23, London, 21 Feb 1989, 23. NOTE: Review of Waddington Galleries exhibition.

Barry Pearce, Frances Lindsay, Lou Klepac and Edmund Capon AM, OBE, Sidney Nolan, Sydney, 2007, 28, 29 (colour illus.), 129 (colour illus.), 232. 39

Rex Irwin Art Dealer, Sidney Nolan: Important paintings from the Estate of the Artist, Sydney, 1998, (colour illus.).; titled 'Colonial Head'

Andrew Sayers, The Ned Kelly Paintings: Nolan at Heide 1946-47, Melbourne, 1997. NOTE: General information. Portraits of similiar approach.

Jill Skyes, Look, 'Doing justice to Nolan', pg. 8, Sydney, Mar 2005, 8.

Jill Sykes (Editor), Look, 'Important purchases: what the Society and Contempo bought for the Gallery in 2001', pg. 16-17, Melbourne, Dec 2001-Jan 2002, 16, 17 (colour illus.).

Nicholas Usherwood., Nolan's Nolans: a reputation reassessed, 'Introduction', London, 1997, 32 (colour illus.). not paginated; 32; price £75,000

Waddington Galleries (Compilator), Sidney Nolan (1989), London, 1989, 4, 5 (colour illus.), 48. 1

Bronwyn Watson, Look, 'Nolan boost', pg 18-19, Melbourne, Jun 2001, 18, 19 (colour illus.).

Art Gallery of New South Wales annual report 2001 [for the year ended 30 June, 2001], Sydney, 2001, 8, 24, 26.