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Prime Minister captures 'Ned Kelly' for Gallery

25 JULY 2001


Prime Minister captures 'Ned Kelly' for City Gallery

Wellington 23 February - 2 June 2002

The most remarkable and original paintings in the history of Australian art have been secured for presentation in New Zealand by the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Helen Clark. The Ned Kelly series by Sir Sidney Nolan will be launched by City Gallery Wellington - the sole venue for the exhibition - as a highlight of the visual arts programme of the 2002 New Zealand Festival. Sir Sidney Nolan is Australia's most famous artist.

"The loan of the Ned Kelly series from the collection of the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) represents an important cultural exchange between Australia and New Zealand," says Miss Clark, "providing audiences in New Zealand with a rare opportunity to view these master works in their own country. This exchange will open up future opportunities for our two countries." In her role as Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, Miss Clark led a delegation to Canberra with Paula Savage, Director of City Gallery, Wellington, and Gillian and Dr Roderick Deane, in April this year.

Dr Brian Kennedy, Director of the National Gallery of Australia said: "The National Gallery of Australia is delighted to show the Ned Kelly series in New Zealand. The paintings are among our most loved and visited masterpieces of the national collection. We know the people of New Zealand will enjoy these famous, historic and engaging paintings."

"We offer our congratulations to the Prime Minister, The Rt Hon Helen Clark, on the engaging manner of her request. Echoing the highwayman, she said simply: 'We have come about the Ned Kellys'. What could we say only hand them over. I emphasise however, it is a loan and we want them back!"

Sir Sidney Nolan's Ned Kelly series retells what has become one of the defining episodes in Australian nationalism - the violent and climactic events leading up to Ned Kelly's capture and trial in 1880. Beyond the extraordinary narrative contained in the paintings, the works are remarkable for the way they have mythologised not only the Australian landscape, but also its inhabitants - Irish immigrant, British colonial and Aboriginal. Nolan's narrative explores themes of violence, love, folly, authority and personal responsibility. By way of these paintings, the figure of Ned Kelly in his jet-black armour has been indelibly stamped on the Australian psyche.

Sir Sidney Nolan is arguably the most significant Australian painter of the 20th century. By the 1960s his reputation had spread well beyond Australia. In the UK, his art was championed by Sir Kenneth Clark and was exhibited widely.

"The iconic Ned Kelly works are regarded as the most significant and influential series of paintings produced in Australia, where they are national treasures," says Paula Savage. "New Zealand audiences will find echoes of conflicts and dramas from our own colonial past, in these works. The Ned Kelly series is the most popular drawcard for visitors at the National Gallery of Australia. We are very indebted to our Prime Minister for her advocacy and support in securing this major artwork loan."

The Ned Kelly paintings were gifted to Australia's National Gallery, Canberra, in 1977, by Sunday Reed. Nolan painted them and gave them to her when he was living with her and her husband John Reed, at Heide, Heidelberg, Victoria. The works attracted large crowds when they were exhibited at the Hayward Gallery in London in 1988, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York in 1994. These are the only two occasions the Ned Kelly series in the Australian National Collection have travelled overseas.

"The Sidney Nolan Ned Kelly series represents easily one of the most significant Australian contributions to our international arts festival yet," says Carla van Zon ONZM, Artistic Director of the 2002 New Zealand Festival. "Consideration of post-colonial identity continues to be a significant theme in the Festival, and I can think of no stronger, more accessible and innovative artistic work of international significance than Nolan's Ned Kelly series to do this."

The Ned Kelly series by Sir Sidney Nolan is a 2002 New Zealand Festival event.

For more information, images, interviews on the Ned Kelly series contact: Anne Irving Publicist City Gallery Wellington T: 04 801 3959 / F: 04 801 3096 E:

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