Out of Australia: prints and drawings from Sidney Nolan to Rover Thomas

26 May – 11 September 2011
Room 90
Admission free

This exhibition forms part of Australian season – a series of exhibitions and events at the British Museum focusing on Australia from April to October 2011.

Australian season is supported by Rio Tinto.

Out of Australia: prints and drawings from Sidney Nolan to Rover Thomas focuses on modern Australian artists of the past seventy years through their graphic art. The exhibition is the first major show of Australian art in London for at least a decade, and the largest and most ambitious devoted to Australian works on paper ever held outside Australia itself. The material for the exhibition comes entirely from the British Museum’s recently-formed collection of Australian prints and drawings, the most significant public collection outside Australia.

The Australian prints and drawings collection at the British Museum has been built up over the past eight years through the generosity of many Australian artists, estates, collectors and supporters. The catalyst for the formation of the modern Australian collection was the gift of Fred Williams’ etchings and drawings from his widow Lyn Williams in 2003. Since then other major gifts have been received including works by Aboriginal artists such as Kitty Kantilla, Gloria Petyarre, Rover Thomas, and younger contemporary Australian artists including Peter S Graham, Brent Harris and Ricky Swallow, all of whom feature in the British Museum’s exhibition.

Out of Australia comprises 126 works on paper by 60 artists and is arranged broadly chronologically. The exhibition begins in the 1940s, with the rise of the distinctive school of Australian artists known as the ‘Angry Penguins’ where Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, Albert Tucker and Joy Hester experimented with surrealism and expressionism. The influence of the Jewish ‘enemy alien’ refugee artists from Europe is traced through the work of Erwin Fabian, Klaus Friedeberger and former Bauhaus teacher Ludwig Hirschfeld Mack during and after their internment in Australia. The show continues with the works of Australian artists in London and Paris during the 1950s and 60s including Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker and Arthur Boyd, sculptor Robert Klippel, Brett Whiteley and Colin Lanceley. This section demonstrates the close interplay between Australians living abroad and the British and European art scenes. The examples from the 1960s and 70s show the development of printmaking in Australia, with the breakthrough landscape etchings of Fred Williams, the feminist works of Barbara Hanrahan and Bea Maddock, the figurative expressionism of George Baldessin, and the abstract metaphysical etchings of Roger Kemp. Important drawings by Tony Tuckson reveal his responses to abstract expressionism while those by Robert Jacks show his direct experience of minimalism in North America during the 1970s.

The 1980s and 90s are represented with drawings by Dick Watkins, James Gleeson and Ken Whisson. Political and social issues are expressed in the prints of Mike Parr, Ann Newmarch and Micky Allan and the AIDS activist David McDiarmid. The exhibition concludes with works by contemporary artists including Brent Harris, Ricky Swallow and G.W. Bot, and prints by some of the most prominent Indigenous Australian artists including Rover Thomas, Robert Cole, Pedro Wonaeamirri, Gloria Petyarre, Kitty Kantilla, Judy Watson and Dorothy Napangardi.

Kelly print

Sidney Nolan (1917–1992), Kelly, 1954. Felt-tipped pen on thin coated paper. Presented by Lady Mary Nolan.
Reproduced by permission of the Trustees of the Sidney Nolan Trust.

Australian season

April – October 2011 – The British Museum and Rio Tinto present Australian Season, a season dedicated to Australian culture featuring a broad programme of exhibitions, installations, performances, lectures and film screenings. The season is supported by Rio Tinto and includes Out of Australia: prints and drawings from Sidney Nolan to Rover Thomas along with Australia Landscape, a specially commissioned space presenting Australian biodiversity in the Museum’s forecourt (in collaboration with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew), Baskets and belonging: Indigenous Australian histories, a display of beautifully handcrafted baskets, woven from the Australian landscape and a rich and varied public programme.

Notes to Editors:

  • A catalogue will be published by British Museum Press to accompany Out of Australia: prints and drawings from Sidney Nolan to Rover Thomas written by curator Stephen Coppel.

  • Rio Tinto is a leading international mining group headquartered in the UK, combining Rio Tinto plc, a London and NYSE listed company, and Rio Tinto Limited, which is listed on the Australian Securities Exchange. Rio Tinto's business is finding, mining, and processing mineral resources. Major products are aluminium, copper, diamonds, energy (coal and uranium), gold, industrial minerals (borax, titanium dioxide, salt, talc) and iron ore. Activities span the world but are strongly represented in Australia and North America with significant businesses in South America, Asia, Europe and southern Africa. Rio Tinto acknowledges that the conservation and responsible management of the environment and natural resources – such as land, water, biodiversity and air – are important business and societal issues. The Group’s biodiversity strategy commits Rio Tinto to achieving the goal of a “net positive impact” on biodiversity – ensuring that biodiversity ultimately benefits as a result of company’s activities in a region. Rio Tinto is the largest private sector employer of Indigenous Australians, currently representing [8] per cent of the Group’s Australian workforce.

  • There will be a number of events related to this exhibition including Australian art: an overview, Friday 24 June, 18.30, £5, Members and concessions £3. Writer, lecturer, art critic and former Turner Prize judge Marina Vaizey gives an introduction to the varied and exciting world of Australian art, from the beginnings of Indigenous Australian art to the rise of a distinctive style in the 20th century.


Esme Wilson: ewilson@britishmuseum.org or 020 7323 8394