Huge Sidney Nolan mural of Eureka Stockade donated to ANU
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Huge Sidney Nolan mural of Eureka Stockade donated to ANU

"Absolutely whopping."

That's how Australian National University Drill Hall Gallery & University Art Collection director Terence Maloon described Sidney Nolan's mural Eureka Stockade (commissioned by the Reserve Bank of Australia in 1962, completed in 1966).

Staff from Abode Restoration and International Conservation Service install Sidney Nolan's <i>Eureka Stockade</i> in the Cultural Centre in ANU's new Kambri precinct.

Staff from Abode Restoration and International Conservation Service install Sidney Nolan's Eureka Stockade in the Cultural Centre in ANU's new Kambri precinct. Credit:Lannon Harley/ANU

The Reserve Bank of Australia has made a gift of the mural to the ANU, it was announced on Monday during the opening of the university's new Kambri precinct, replacing Union Court.

Maloon said Eureka Stockade, installed in Kambri's Cultural Centre, was conservatively valued at $1.8 million.

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Eureka Stockade was commissioned during the period when H.C. "Nugget" Coombs was the RBA's governor (1960-68) and was located in the bank's main Melbourne building, which was sold  in 2018. The new premises were too small to accommodate the mural.

Maloon said Eureka Stockade, a depiction of the 1854 rebellion of gold miners in Ballarat, was 20 metres wide and 3.8 metres high.

Nolan created it using a mosaic of nine copperplate panels nicked with nitric acid. He then applied jewellers' enamel with the help of two expert British enamellists, Robin Banks and Patrick Furse.

"It does sit in a very significant way in the history of Australian art," Maloon said.

The style, he said, anticipated the work of later artists such as Imants Tillers (born in 1950).

Detail of Sidney Nolan's <i>Eureka Stockade</i> in the Cultural Centre in ANU's new Kambri precinct.

Detail of Sidney Nolan's Eureka Stockade in the Cultural Centre in ANU's new Kambri precinct. Credit:Lannon Harley/ANU

"Nolan looks like an ancestor of his."

He said, "It's slightly goofy drawing that also looks like more recent Australian art."

The RBA's curator, John Murphy, said Eureka Stockade could not be accommodated in a publicly accessible place in the bank's Sydney headquarters.

He said a committee created a shortlist of places where the mural could be installed in its entirety in an accessible public venue where there was suitable viewing distance and where it would be well preserved.

Murphy said, "We looked at a series of suitable places - for example, the National Gallery of Victoria, Parliament House in Victoria, the National Gallery of Australia and the National Museum of Australia."

They chose ANU because the university had special links to Coombs. As director-general of post-war reconstruction, he was a member of the ANU Interim Council and then of Council. Coombs served as deputy chair from 1952 and pro-chancellor from 1959 to 1968. From 1968 to 1976 he was chancellor of ANU.

Not only did Coombs have a long association with the university but there was another Nolan work with an important Coombs connection in the ANU Drill Hall Gallery.

While pro-chancellor, Coombs instigated the H.C. Coombs Creative Arts Fellowship. Nolan was the first Creative Arts Fellow in 1965 and the university acquired his work Riverbend (1964-65) the same year.

Maloon said, "Now the university has two really, really, really major Nolan works on the campus.

"It's an incredible quantum leap for our art collection."

Maloon said, "I think Canberra's a great place for seeing Nolan's work - at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Museum and Gallery and here,

"Anyone interested in Nolan's work could spend a good weekend in Canberra."

Ron Cerabona is an arts reporter for The Canberra Times.

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