Menzies Art Brands



The suburb of Melbournes St Kilda is etched deeply into Sidney Nolans psyche, it was where he spent his early years surrounded by family and would return to later in life for artistic inspiration. In the late nineteenth century, St Kilda was regarded as one of Melbourne most fashionable and affluent suburbs, it was where the wealthy merchants and professionals chose to build their homes. Because of its proximity to the city and tram accessibility, it was decided by the City of Melbourne that it would be the location of a leisure park and in 1906, the Catani Gardens were established. Luna Park was opened in 1912 by the American Phillips family and at the time, it was hailed the greatest amusement park in the world. The same family also built the Palais de Danse in 1913 which was tragically destroyed by fire in 1926. By the late 1920s, the combined impact of the Great War and the Depression saw St Kildas fortunes reverse the grand mansions had been transformed into boarding houses and gambling and prostitution were rife. St Kilda became a mostly working class suburb however still retained the underpinning elegance of the grand nineteenth century architecture and popular seaside attractions.

In 1918 the Nolan family moved to Pakington Street, St Kilda, where the artists two sisters and brother were born. The pier, baths and Luna Park became a backyard for the Nolan children; these attractions became as familiar to them as any neighbourhood playground. The family later moved to a larger house on Smith Street which was closer to the foreshore. The artist remembers stealing rides on the Big Dipper and performing stunts whilst the rollercoaster was moving, terrifying the other passengers. Nolan and his father, Sidney Senior, would swim in the public baths and the artist would go on to become an accomplished swimmer
and diver.

The current work, Landscape (The Big Dipper at Luna Park) was painted in 1942 - the same year Nolan divorced from his first wife, Elizabeth Paterson and was conscripted into the army. Here, the artist has depicted the seaside playground of his childhood, a place of solace amongst the turbulence of his personal and professional lives at that time. He began this series of works of St Kilda in the early 1940s, reflecting on the beauty of the location and the simple, pre-war way of life. Speaking on the Luna Park paintings in 1977, Nolan recalls:

Some of them were half abstract; its essentially a kind of grid, curved grid that I use, as Ive used it since as a variety of meansof course it was actually very beautiful because from the top [of the big dipper roller coaster] you could see the full moon over the bay there and it was actually very lovely. But we were urchins really; thats what it boiled down to and that was our playground. It was a little piece of what you might call kitsch heaven.1

Nolan has vivid memories of sleeping on the verandah of the Smith Street house as a boy, listening to the noises of the amusement park at the end of their street, I rememberthe Big Dipper going click, click, click and the screams of the girls and Id go to sleep and think, well, I just wish I was up there with them2 St Kilda and its charms provided the artist with the fundamental framework for this important group of works and would become a sentimental subject which the artist returned to at various points throughout his career.

1. Sidney Nolan in Adams, B. (director), Nolan at Sixty film, 1977. Script by Elwyn Lynn. Cited in Underhill, J. (ed.), Nolan on Nolan: Sidney Nolan in his own words, Penguin, 2007, p.263
2. Sidney Nolan in Adams, B. (director), Nolan at Sixty film, 1977. Script by Elwyn Lynn, cited in Pearce, B., Sidney Nolan (exh. cat.), The Beagle Press for the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2007, p.68

Caroline Jones MA (Art Admin.)

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