Sidney Nolan's Ned Kelly series extended to 4th October 2020
A National Gallery of Australia exhibition
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Sidney Nolan’s 1946–47 paintings on the theme of the 19th–century bushranger Ned Kelly are one of the greatest series of Australian paintings of the 20th century. Nolan’s Ned Kelly series is a distillation of a complex, layered story set in the Victorian landscape and centred around a nineteenth-century bushranger and his gang who were on the run from the police. Landscape is a key element in the paintings—as Nolan said, ‘it began in the landscape and ended in the landscape’. The series also depends upon a loosely threaded but vital dramatic human narrative that has its catalyst with Constable Fitzpatrick and Kate Kelly 1946 in the domestic arena of the Kelly family home where a fracas occurs, and ends with The trial 1947, in a Melbourne courtroom where Ned Kelly is sentenced to death.
Ned Kelly's death mask
Also on display is Ned Kelly’s death mask on loan from the National Trust of Australia (Victoria), Old Melbourne Goal.
His death mask was created after his execution at the Old Melbourne Gaol on 11 November 1880. He was aged 25. After the execution, Kelly’s body remained suspended for 30 minutes as required by law to ensure he was dead. Waxworks proprietor Maximilian Kreitmayer shaved the head and prepared a wax mould for a death mask. The mask was cast using plaster and many copies were made, including one that Kreitmayer displayed in his Wax Museum on Bourke Street. Death masks were made in the name of science – as well as to inspire fear in would-be criminals. The use of the now discredited science of phrenology was an attempt to understand criminality. Phrenology was a method of reading the shape of the scull and the bumps on the cranium. Each bump, lump and indentation corresponded to a characteristic that built a picture of the individual’s personality.
Video: 3 minutes 25 seconds
Alexandra Roginski explains the history behind the pseudo-science of phrenology, popular in the nineteenth century.
This video was produced with funds donated by Tim Fairfax AC.
Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery
Ned Kelly, 1946
from the Ned Kelly series 1946 – 1947
enamel on composition board,
90.8 x 121.5 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Collection
Gift of Sunday Reed, 1977
© National Gallery of Australia, Canberra