National Gallery of Australia acquires John Olsen's Sydney Sun

The Director of the National Gallery of Australia, Dr Brian Kennedy, today announced the purchase of one of John Olsen's most significant paintings, Sydney Sun 1965. 'The Gallery is delighted that this magnificent work by one of Australia's most distinguished artists is now part of the National Collection for all Australians to enjoy', he said.

John Olsen has been one of Australia's most consistent and outstanding visual artists. Sydney Sun encapsulates the spirit of delight in life which is the essence of this artist's work.

A dramatic, large-scale painting in three panels, Sydney Sun has been in private collections since 1965 and will be seen publicly for the first time in three decades in the Gallery's exhibition Federation: Australian Art and Society 1901-2001 that opens tomorrow. The work, purchased for $500,000, was undertaken at a time when Olsen was receiving widespread acclaim for his original approach to painting and his creative response to his local environment.

'Initially conceived as a ceiling painting, it is an optimistic, life-enhancing work, encompassing the artist's passionate response to a sense of place and to the natural world', says Dr Deborah Hart, the Gallery's Senior Curator of Australian Painting and Sculpture. 'When Olsen returned to Australia in 1960 after three years in Europe, he found the local scene magically alive. In the ensuing years he captured the vibrancy of Sydney, the quality of light and the razzle-dazzle of its street life.'

Dr Hart, who has written extensively on the artist, ranks Sydney Sun as an important work in Olsen's artistic career and in the history of Australian art. 'The work made a dramatic impact when it was first exhibited because nothing quite like it had ever been seen before. The significance of Olsen's approach is that he conveys not only the external visible world but also a world that is felt and experienced. As the artist himself explained, he wanted to create an "all-at-once world", a totality of experience.'

John Olsen said this month 'Sydney Sun has been in America for the past 27 years and it came as a great delight for me to see how fresh and "new" it looked. I think it is among my best paintings of my Sydney 60s period.

Remembering my intentions at the time, I recall coming into the harbour in the early morning after being in Europe for several years, the surrounding harbour hills - Mosman, Eastern suburbs seemed to cradle the sun's light - like a benevolent bath, bubbling and effervescent. It is about the image of things growing - pullulating, from the sun's source.

I think Sydney Sun is a democratic, open and optimistic picture that runs parallel in feeling to the Olympic spirit of Sydney demonstrated in Sydney this year.'

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7 December 2000