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image icon 'Brighton Road State School or perspective love song', 1944

'Brighton Road State School or perspective love song', 1944
Art Gallery of South Australia


This is a synthetic polymer painting by Sidney Nolan (1917-92), dating from 1944. Measuring 59.0 cm x 89.5 cm, it depicts a schoolyard filled with young children at play. At the right of the painting, two boys hang by their legs from a scoreboard that has outsized numbers on it. A head and shoulders sculptural bust sits in the middle foreground of the picture. Behind the bust, a boy and a girl sit linked together in an open sheltershed. A group of children at the left of the work appear to be doing 'whizzies' (a children's game involving spinning around) and in the process are casting strangely shaped shadows onto the asphalt-coloured ground. There are also strong dark shadows cast by the two boys hanging on the scoreboard and the sheltershed. Blobs of brightly coloured paint in the background suggest trees and buildings. The busy scene is set against a clear blue-green sky.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a painting by Sidney Nolan, one of Australia's best known and critically acclaimed artists - Nolan attended night classes at the National Gallery School, Melbourne, in 1934 but spent more time at the public library next door; in the mid-1930s he joined a group of like-minded young artists, including Arthur Boyd (1920-99), Albert Tucker (1914-99) and John Perceval (1923-2000), who were experimenting with contemporary forms of painting; he became a member of the 'Heide' circle of artists, which included Arthur Boyd, Albert Tucker and Joy Hester (1920-1960); in 1942 he was stationed as a soldier at Dimboola, Victoria, where he produced a series of vibrant, expressionistic landscape works; after leaving the army, Nolan lived for a time at 'Heide', the home of John and Sunday Reed, on the outskirts of Melbourne, where he created the well-known 'Ned Kelly' series; in 1950 he left Australia to live in England; his artistic output was vast and also included drawings, prints and theatre set designs; Nolan's profile within Australia and overseas is largely based on his series of colonial-subject works in which history merges with myth and which feature bushranger Ned Kelly, explorers Burke and Wills and shipwreck heroine Eliza Fraser
  • is one of a series of paintings made in the mid-1940s that were based on memories of growing up in St Kilda, an inner Melbourne bayside suburb - Nolan and his family moved to St Kilda in 1925; the series is dominated by remembered childhood landscapes, images of life at St Kilda beach, the sea baths and Luna Park; the style of these works is childlike in its vivid use of colour and sense of excitement
  • is a visual recollection of Nolan's schooldays - the school in this painting is the St Kilda Brighton Road School; Nolan was at the school around 1922-28 and is recognised as its most distinguished pupil; the central bust in the work depicts his teacher, while the numbers on the scoreboard incorporate the school's registration number (State School Number 1479); in his written recollections (1978) of his time there, Nolan wrote, 'We were well taught and when released, ran wild at playtime, the boys trying to be masculine with feats of glory like hanging from the football scoreboard ... the playground was a mass of dispersed activity and that's how I still activate my paintings'
  • demonstrates the influence of modernist art styles on Nolan's work - the floating quality of the figures in the left foreground and the extensive use of shadows reflect a familiarity with Surrealist painting formulas and their ability to create dreamlike images; the flatness of various areas of paint (assisted by the inherent qualities of liquid polymer paint) reflect the influence of the work of French artist Henri Matisse (1869-1954); Matisse created lively decorative images by reducing objects to flat, brightly coloured shapes
  • is linked to the poetry of fictitious poet Ern Malley - the second part of the painting's title: 'Perspective love song' is the title of an Ern Malley poem; Malley was the invention of two antimodernist Australian poets, James McAuley (1917-76) and Harold Stewart (1916-95), who made up 17 poems in a modernist style and sent them to Adelaide critic and poet Max Harris, who had established an avant-garde literary journal called 'Angry penguins' in 1940; impressed by the poems, Harris arranged a special 1944 issue devoted to Malley and commissioned Sidney Nolan to do the cover illustration; the 'Ern Malley hoax', as it came to be called, divided the Australian intellectual community and Malley has become an enduring figure in Australian cultural life; Nolan made a series of works based on Malley, including a 1973 portrait of Malley as an Australian soldier
  • illustrates how Nolan was able to give visual expression to a literary idea - Nolan particularly liked the Ern Malley poem 'Perspective love song' because it contained the lines: 'Princess, you lived in Princess Street, where urchins pick their nose in the sun with their left hand'.