Sidney Nolan's stunning Antarctic paintings at the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge

By Richard Moss | 29 October 2010
an abstract painting of a bay with blue waters and ice capped hills
Sidney Nolan: Antarctrica, Polar Museum, Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, until December 18 2010

The stark Polar landscape has long attracted a procession of artists and photographers keen to capture its icy wastes and the men and women who battle them.

Among the best in a long line of artists who have taken on this daunting task is the Australian Sir Sydney Nolan, who visited the polar region in the 1960s as part of the US Navy’s strategic and geographical expeditions to Antarctica, Operation Deep Freeze.

a painting showing an icey figure with red coat and goggles
Best known today for his iconic pictures of Ned Kelly, the expedition became the inspiration for a major series of 68 paintings, which Nolan completed in his studio in London.  

The results are reckoned to be among the best and most striking depictions of the region, with examples held in galleries all over the world. Only a few of Nolan’s Antarctic paintings remain in Britain and many of them are currently residing in a captivating exhibition at the Polar Museum at Cambridge University’s Scott Polar Research Institute.

“Nolan’s Antarctic paintings represent some of his most spellbinding work,” says Heather Lane, Librarian and Keeper of Collections at the SPRI. “His spectacular use of colour and texture will confound people’s expectations of Antarctic art. We are delighted to be able show this spectacular body of work in the new Polar Museum at SPRI.”

These vivid landscapes and portraits of the scientists and staff Nolan encountered on the bases of Antarctica have rarely been brought together in this country. For the Polar Museum they offer yet another dimension to their work of scientific enquiry, research, education and outreach and the protection of our Polar heritage.
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