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'Camel and Figure' is one of many paintings by Nolan inspired by the story of the explorers Burke and Wills. In 1860 Robert O'Hara Burke and William Wills set out from Melbourne, aiming to cross Australia from south to north. This involved traversing the vast inhospitable desert of inland Australia. The expedition was doomed from the start. Both were inexperienced, travelling at the wrong time of year, overloaded with wrong provisions, and with quarrelsome subordinates. Burke and Wills both perished. This painting depicts Burke with one of the 27 camels which formed the cavalcade. According to legend, stripping is the last act of a man dying in the desert. Burke's nakedness thus signals disaster.

August 2004