Sidney Nolan: Greek Myths, Modern Times


Santorini, 1956. © Sidney Nolan Trust

Sir Sidney Nolan was one of Australia’s most significant modernist artists, best known for his depictions of the history and mythology of bush life in Australia. His paintings, often rich in colour, striking in composition and deliberately awkward in technique, represent Australian stories of loss, failure and capture, featuring figures such as the bushranging Kelly Gang, shipwreck victim Eliza Fraser and the explorers Burke and Wills. In fact, Nolan’s iconic paintings of the Kelly Gang contributed to the development of the image of Ned Kelly as a mythologised symbol for Australian history and identity.


In 1951, he left Victoria for London and then in November 1955, hungry for further inspiration, Nolan and his wife, writer Cynthia Reed, travelled from London to the Greek island of Hydra which boasted a creative expatriate circle.


Hydra, which lies off the coast of the Peloponnese, is one of those places that captures the imagination, and life on the island has centred around the sparkling natural harbour since Neolithic times. Between 1566 and 1821, Hydra was part of the Ottoman Empire during which time it became an important commercial port before becoming a naval power during the Greek Revolution. Soon after, it