Sidney Nolan | Australia/England 1917-92 | Mrs Fraser 1947 | Ripolin enamel on hardboard | 66.2 x 107cm | Purchased 1995 with a special allocation from the Queensland Government. Celebrating the Queensland Art Gallery's | Centenary 1895-1995 | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © Courtesy of the Artist's Estate / www.bridgeman.co.uk
Mrs Fraser 1947
Ripolin enamel on hardboard
66.2 x 107cm
Purchased 1995 with a special allocation from the Queensland Government. Celebrating the Queensland Art Gallery's Centenary 1895-1995
Collection: Queensland Art Gallery
© Courtesy of the Artist's Estate / www.bridgeman.co.uk
Mrs Fraser 1947
Sidney Nolan engaged with Australian myths and legends throughout his career. His most famous paintings are of historical figures ― notably Ned Kelly, and Burke and Wills ― pitted against hostile environments.
In 1947, Nolan became intrigued by the story of Eliza Fraser, the English woman whose vessel was shipwrecked off the Queensland coast in 1836; Fraser Island now bears her name. The tale of Mrs Fraser's survival, her captivity (or in some versions, salvation) by local Aborigines and her rescue six weeks later by convict John Graham proved an ideal subject for Nolan.
In this disturbing painting, he portrays Mrs Fraser as a faceless figure imprisoned in an oppressive, impenetrable landscape. In conceiving the painting, Nolan appears to have been strongly influenced by Robert Gibbings's account of the saga, which appeared in his book John Graham (Convict) 1824: An Historical Narrative.
It was a source of continual ridicule that when gathering firewood she was compelled [by her Indigenous companions] to bend down and collect it with her hands instead of just picking up the sticks with her toes as she went along.1
Nolan returned to the legend in the late 1950s and early 1960s. As an expatriate living in London at the end of his career, Nolan gave interviews that made clear his sense of connection with Mrs Fraser and her arduous, long-deferred passage home.