#NOLAN100 - NO.29
Sir John Tooley
I first met Sidney in the mid-1950s, a short time after his arrival in England with his wife Cynthia when they came to take up residence in the UK. He was standing at the end of the bar at the Royal Opera House, a favourite spot, where he was only too happy to be engaged in conversation. By this stage in his artistic development his thoughts and ambitions were roving widely over the world and he was meeting many distinguished people of cultural standing who were interested in him as an artist and who welcomed him into their circle.
One of these was Benjamin Britten. Sidney's passion for music naturally drew him to the composer, but he was drawn not only to the music but also to Ben's intellectual ideas. Sidney much admired the set-up in Snape, with its music festival and the opportunities for providing a stimulating artistic environment, particularly in a rural setting. He wanted to create something similar and spent years, frequently in conversation with Ben, who became a lifelong friend, formulating ideas as to how another such artistic centre might be established. It took a long time to achieve, but by the 1980s, with his third wife Mary, he at last managed to buy a suitable house and land in Herefordshire where he could create an organic farm and, potentially, a centre for the arts. This was The Rodd.
Meanwhile Sidney had forged a close relationship with the Royal Opera House and he and I became good friends. In 1964, to Sidney's delight, he was invited by Kenneth MacMillan to design the sets and costumes for a new production of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. The subject matter and the vivid score provided just the right inspiration for Sidney. The production was a huge success and contributed to the growing recognition of Sidney Nolan as an important theatre designer. That production, with Sidney's designs, is still running to this day at Covent Garden.
Once Sidney had settled with Mary at the Rodd, he moved to establish a Trust which would secure the future of the organic farm, the promotion of his work and the execution of his educational ideals. He asked me if I would be a trustee, and sometime after his death Mary asked me if I would become Chairman. These were roles I took on with great pleasure for some twenty years. Sidney would have been thrilled to see the extent to which the Sidney Nolan Trust is realising the dream he had so long ago.
Sir John Tooley has played a crucial role in the development of opera, music and ballet in the UK. He was General Director of the Royal Opera House 1970–88 and, amongst others, has also been involved with the Britten Estate, Welsh National Opera, Almeida Theatre, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Salisbury Festival. He was Chairman of the Salisbury Cathedral Girl Choristers Trust and of the Salisbury Cathedral Fabric Advisory committee. He was made Commendatore of the Italian Republic in 1976 and knighted in 1979. He chaired the Sidney Nolan Trust for 20 years until 2012.
Sidney Nolan: Thames, 1962, polyvinyl acetate on hardboard, 122x122cm, © The Trustees of the Sidney Nolan Trust.