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Michel Lawrence photographed Sid Nolan with a roughly cut out Kelly mask for this portrait of one of Australia's most important artists of the post war period.

Sid Nolan portrait at the National Gallery

Michel Lawrence’s portrait of Sid Nolan holding a cut-out Kelly Mask is now on display at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.

Michel took the Sid Nolan portrait in 1987 at Rob Imhoff’s wonderful Lighthouse Studio in Prahran, for the book Framed.

Michel Lawrence’s Sid Nolan portrait as Ned Kelly is just one of 100 of Australia’s most prominent painters, sculptors and print-makers photographed over a ten-year period from the mid-1980s until the mid-1990s.

Framed. Photographs of Australian Artists

The photographs were exhibited at Australian Galleries Melbourne and Sydney and published as Framed-Photographs of Australian Artists, published by Hardie Grant. (The book is now out of print but can be found sometimes on Ebay.)

Sid Nolan was most famous for his Ned Kelly series which is also at the NGA and Lawrence had always thought that was a good match!

The reproduction of the Nolan photo is displayed with a new exhibition of the Riverbend series, featuring nine very large pieces on loan from the ANU.

The Sid Nolan portrait

Michel recalled the session: “It was important to me for a number of reasons: Sid was married to Mary Boyd (Arthur’s sister) who had formerly been married to John Perceval. And at the time I was living in the old Perceval home in Canterbury! Now that’s 2 degrees of Separation. Anyway Sid looked incredibly staid and conservative in his banker’s suit until I pulled out the prop, a cut-out Kelly mask. His eyes lit up and away we went,” said Lawrence.

The celebrated artist, teacher and art critic, Elwyn Lynn, wrote in The Weekend Australian at the book launch:

“You can have wonderful fun, whether you want to treat these photographs as slightly satirical or evidence for the analyst.”

The Riverbend paintings

Riverbend at the NGA

Sid Nolan portrait at the NGA

The Riverbend series was painted in England in 1965 and is an intensely personal depiction of the bush painted from memory over a couple of days. Nolan had spent his childhood holidays on the Goulburn River near Shepparton, and he described it as “my father’s country”.

Ned Kelly, Nolan’s iconic bushranger is visible in a number of the paintings playing hide and seek with the police.

The Riverbend series hangs in the gallery opposite the space where the Kelly Gang series is displayed!

The Heide legacy

The Kelly series was painted at Heide while Nolan was living with John and Sunday Reed and the gift of the paintings by Sunday Reed to the NGA laid to rest a dispute over Nolan’s claims to works he had left behind at Heide. He subsequently painted more Kellys but none achieved the acclaim of the originals.

Sidney Nolan Death of Sergeant Kennedy at Stringybark Creek 1946 enamel paint on composition board 91 x 121.7 cm National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 1972 Reproduced with permission
Sidney Nolan
Death of Sergeant Kennedy at Stringybark Creek 1946
enamel paint on composition board
91 x 121.7 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1972
Reproduced with permission

Besides the Sid Nolan portrait, many of the Framed photographs are in numerous private and public collections including the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, The National Library, The Museum of Modern Art at Heide, The Queensland Art Gallery, Melbourne University and numerous regional galleries and a number of private collections.