Sidney Nolan
'Boy and the moon' c.1939-40
Purchased 1976
© Sidney Nolan Trust

When Boy and the moon was first exhibited in 1940, the extreme simplicity of its composition challenged conventional ideas about painting and polarised the debate about modernism.

The title of the painting refers to what Sidney Nolan says was the initial impulse for the work: the sight of a friend's head silhouetted against a full moon. By conflating these two images Nolan has created a simple and memorable painting that negotiates the territory between representation and abstraction.

Like many of his favourite works, Nolan returned to the moon-boy motif several times throughout his career. In the 1960s it became the basis for his set design for the ballet The rite of spring, performed at Covent Garden in London.

Nolan studied intermittently at the National Gallery School in Melbourne from 1934 to 1936. From the late 1930s he was closely associated with the art patrons John and Sunday Reed and the circle of artists and writers who congregated at the Reeds' home, Heide, on the outskirts of Melbourne.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

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