#NOLAN100 - NO.17

Quilting the Armour, 1947

Jackie Haliday

"I’ve chosen Quilting the Armour because my interest lies in how this Sidney Nolan painting quietly disarms the Ned Kelly legend as the practicalities of the behemoth armour is tenderly padded by Kelly’s sister Kate.  The contrast of the hard with the soft; the steel plough shares against the blue fabric lining; the impenetrable folk hero versus the vulnerabilities of the man.  

I had this same feeling when I recently made a tour of ‘Kelly Country’ - Stringybark Creek, Beechworth, Chiltern, Glenrowan with its six metre Ned Kelly statue.  Childhood memories and fears of the menace of the outback dissolving as I drove through an innocuous landscape dotted with quiet country towns each with their stake of Kelly mythology. 

This notion of disarmament is further compounded by Nolan’s cartoonlike flattening of the central figure in the foreground or downstage.  It gives the impression of the protagonist breaking the fourth wall and stepping out and addressing the viewer directly, now as a seamstress.  While the everyday farm life is still humming along in the background, the armour is presented as an unfinished costume further dismantling the man from the legend.  

However as viewer we don't yet know what the next scene will be because Nolan’s horizon offers us an ambiguity.  Is it the closing of the day, a peaceful dusk and the safety of darkness? Or is Nolan signalling the dawn breaking and the sun rising allowing Kelly to don his costume to play out the final, fateful Last Stand?"


Jackie Haliday is an art dealer who lives and works in London.

Sidney Nolan, Quilting the Armour, 1947, Enamel paint on composition board, 90.4 x 121.2 cm, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Gift of Sunday Reed, 1977.

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