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Australian art

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Entrance to the seaport of desire



John Olsen

Australia, England, Spain, Portugal

21 Jan 1928 -


By 1963, John Olsen was living in a fisherman's cottage at Watson's Bay, close to the entrance of Sydney Harbour. Responding to the rhythmic topography of Sydney's distinctive landforms, Olsen painted a number of works during 1963 and 1964 which are resplendent in their vivacious use of colour.

Inspired by the lavish sculptural architecture of the Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi, whose cathedral El Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família he had seen in Barcelona, Olsen's landscapes heave and swell through a textured web of line and shapes.

He later wrote in 1973:
"I've always thought of the formation of Sydney's land forms as a bitch goddess and frankly at times it frightens me. The breasty contours of its hills ... when your [sic] sailing through the heads you feel as though your [sic] sailing through her arms - And when you are coming into her you feel you are going deeper and you are caught in her spidery net."

© Australian Art Department, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2000




Media category


Materials used

synthetic polymer paint on canvas


167.6 x 213.4 cm stretcher; 171.7 x 219.0 x 5.5 cm frame :

0 - Whole, 166.3 x 212 cm, SIGHT DIMENSION

Signature & date

Signed l.r. corner, black synthetic polymer paint [faded] "John/ Olsen".
Dated l.r. corner, blue synthetic polymer paint "'64".


Gift of Mrs M.A. McGrath 1968


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

John Olsen

Artist profile

Works in the collection


Shown in 8 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 13 publications


Anne Beveridge, Daily telegraph, 'Gentle art of shocking a staid older Sydney', pg. 105, Sydney, 09 May 2009, 105 (illus.). Exhibition review of 'Gallery A, Sydney 1964-1983'. Photograph of Olsen and Ann Lewis infront of 'Entrance to the seaport of desire'.

Gary Catalano, The years of hope: Australian art and criticism 1959-1968, 'Childhood themes', pg. 48-59, Melbourne, 1981, 52 (colour illus.).

Deborah Hart, John Olsen, Sydney, 1991, 71 (colour illus.). 40

David Hurlston and Deborah Edwards (Editors), John Olsen: the You Beaut Country, Melbourne, 2016, 81 (colour illus.).

Glenis Israel, Art Wise - Visual Arts years 7-10, Queensland, 1997.

Glenis Israel, Artwise: visual arts 7-10, Milton, 2004, 118, 119 (colour illus.).

Brian Ladd, The Artist & the City, 'Introduction', pg. 4-5, Sydney, 1983, 5, 13 (colour illus.). 28

Patrick McCaughey, Encounters with Australian modern art, 'John Olsen and Jeffrey Smart', pg. 116-128, South Yarra, 2008, 117, 118. General reference

John Murphy, Gallery A Sydney 1964 - 1983, Campbelltown, 2009, 121 (illus., detail). Exhibited at Gallery A Sydney, 1964; B&W photograph of John Olsen standing infront of this painting and Ann Lewis beside it on page 121.

Jill Sykes (Editor), Look, Sydney, Mar 2010, 47 (colour illus.). Members what's on section

The Brett Whiteley Studio (Editor), Big blue: the painted harbour (list of works), Sydney, 1997.

Total Environment Centre, Sydney Harbour 2000: Environment Audit and Management, Sydney, 1996, cover (illus.).

Gavin Wilson, Harbourlife, 'harbourlife', pg. 7-32, Sydney, 2007, 55, 16, 17 (colour illus.).