#Nolan100 - No.38

The Cardplayers, 1952

Nevin Jayawardena



"This work by Sidney Nolan concentrates on the characters in the painting, rather than the architecture. Nolan has utilized the chiaroscuro technique, where he uses strong tonal contrasts between light and dark to model the different forms for dramatic effect. This sombre effect is further emphasized by the facial expressions of the characters themselves.

The painting depicts six different characters, most of whom are engaged in the game of cards. It illustrates two men immersed in this mundane activity, with three other spectators studiously intent on the game and one man who seems to be more removed from the activity. The five in the left half of the painting all appear to be focused closely on the game of cards. There is no excitement, no melodrama, nor conversation, rather, Nolan’s painting portrays six stone-faced figures of muted emotion in a rather simplified setting.

Card playing is a popular theme that has been used in other paintings within the Australian ‘Bush’ genre. Typically, it aims to emphasize the universality of life activities that exist amongst countrymen, perhaps alien to an urban environment. This painting captures an eerie yet calm spirit of the bush land, through its tone, technique and the symbolism of card playing creates a sense of concentration and also timelessness.

For me, the painting communicates a narrative about men who are quietly passing the time, happy enough with the hand that life has dealt them. However, there is one who is not content with his situation. His juxtaposition, accentuated by the centre wooden pillar that separates him from the crowded space of five men marks him out as someone who wants something more or something different as he lingers beside the open window. For me, he represents escape and freedom from the more conventional and confined left half."

Nevin Jayawardena is President of University of Western Australia Student Guild. As part of UWA's 'My Collection' project, in celebration of the centenary of Sidney Nolan's birth, the university are inviting members of the extended University community to select one Nolan work out of their collection of 150. Those people are then invited to write 300 words in a similar way to the Nolan 100, and those chosen works will then be exhibited on campus.

Sidney Nolan, The cardplayers,1952, Ripolin on board, 89.8x120.3 cm, The University of Western Australia Art Collection, Tom Collins Memorial Fund, 1953, © The Trustees of the Sidney Nolan Trust

Supported By

Arts Council England