An image of Burke

Sidney Nolan

(Australia, England 22 Apr 1917 – 28 Nov 1992)


Other titles:
Camel and figure, Burke - Burke and Wills expedition, Explorer, Explorer - Rocky landscape
Not on display
Further information

The story of the ill-fated 1860 expedition of the Irish explorers Burke and Wills, who attempted to traverse the continent south to north, first preoccupied the artist throughout 1948-50. The totality of their sacrifice was clearly one which impressed him. His own predilection to long soul-searching journeys, coupled with his ability to place the observer in the explorer's eye, evokes an actual vision of the immense skies and the sense of vast space and empty, desolate landscape which these men had experienced.

In the second series, painted 1961-62, Nolan's concern is the suggestion of a universal emotion rather than incidental details of history. He expresses his admiration for these doomed men:
"I doubt that I will ever forget my emotions when first flying over Central Australia and realizing how much we painters and poets owe to our predecessors the explorers, with their frail bodies and superb will-power."
- Sidney Nolan 1967

The Perth newspaper, 'Critic', reported on this series of works, first exhibited in 1962:
"The camels are unforgettable, slightly comic but also disquieting with their long sinewy necks, ... their wobbly swaying stance; and their riders perched precariously on the steep rump seem to have grown into the beasts, a kind of desert centaur. Sitting well back they look rather like figureheads on the wrong end of the ship of the desert."

Australian Art Department, AGNSW, 2000

polyvinyl acetate and oil on hardboard
122.0 x 122.0 cm board
Signature & date

Signed l.l. with monogram, enamel "N [in reverse]". Not dated.

Gift of Godfrey Phillips International Pty Ltd 1968
Accession number
© The Trustees of the Sidney Nolan Trust/Bridgeman Art Library