Nolan was inspired by Australian folklore, heroes and history. This painting is one of a series on the subject of the explorers Robert O'Hara Burke and William Wills, who set out from Melbourne in 1860 with the aim of crossing Australia from south to north. The expedition was problematic from the beginning, and seven men died on the expedition, Burke and Wills included. This painting is an imagined scene from Burke’s last days. Stripping naked is said to be the last act of a dying man in the desert, and Nolan uses this to foreshadow Burke’s death, as he pictures him pulling a specially imported camel along. The camels had been specially imported for their usefulness in desert conditions – the camel’s reluctance to proceed here adds to our impression of the futility of Burke’s efforts.
Camel and Figure
Date of work
Original: Oil paint on hardboard 121 x 121.9 cm © Reproduced with the permission of the Sidney Nolan Trust / Bridgeman Images
Sidney Nolan (1917 – 1992) was an Australian artist. Nolan worked in a variety of media, including paint, photography, print-making and stage design, and is best-known for his series of paintings based on the Australian outlaw Ned Kelly. He travelled extensively throughout his lifetime, creating numerous works inspired by his own experiences, literature, and folklore. Having moved to London in 1951, he was knighted in 1981 and awarded the Order of Merit in 1983. Nolan was also made a Companion of the Order of Australia, elected an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a member of The Royal Academy of Arts.