Sidney Nolan centenary
Back of Beyond

24 November 2017 – 11 January 2018


Sidney Nolan (1917–1992), All that remains is the music of their names, from the series Back of Beyond. Felt-tipped pen and ink on thin coated paper, 1954. Presented by Lady Mary Nolan. Reproduced by permission of the Sidney Nolan Trust.

To mark the centenary of the birth of Australian artist Sidney Nolan (1917–1992), this display showcases a group of drawings of the remote Australian interior from his 1954 series Back of Beyond.

The drawings were inspired by Nolan’s journey to the stark outback during the making of the documentary-drama film The Back of Beyond in 1952. The film, directed by John Heyer and partly scripted by the Australian poet Douglas Stewart, told the story of the lonely 300-mile mail run along the old overland stock route from Marree in South Australia to Birdsville in Queensland. Nolan began the series in early 1954 shortly after his arrival in London from Australia, and the drawings were first shown during the Venice Film festival in the summer of 1954.

Drawn swiftly with a fibre-tipped pen on white coated paper, Nolan’s drawings capture the vastness of the desert interior and the harshness of outback life on the Birdsville Track. From sweeping panoramas to bleak depictions of the devastation caused by drought and flash floods, the works were widely admired, and several were reproduced in the first book on the artist, published in 1961.

Lady Mary Nolan, the artist’s widow, gave 13 of these drawings to the British Museum in 2006, followed by a further group of eight in 2011. Several of these were shown in the exhibition Out of Australia: prints and drawings from Sidney Nolan to Rover Thomas in 2011.