Sir Sidney Nolan

Peter Grimes’s Apprentice


Not on display

Sir Sidney Nolan 1917–1992
Oil paint and polyvinyl acetate paint on hardboard
Support: 914 × 1219 mm
frame: 1007 × 1308 × 33 mm
Presented by Lord McAlpine of West Green 1983

Display caption

This picture was painted for the 30th Aldeburgh Festival where it was included in an exhibition subtitled 'An artist's response to the music of Benjamin Britten'. Nolan was a friend of Britten and this work was inspired by the composer's opera 'Peter Grimes'. This is based on an 1810 poem by George Crabbe which is set in Aldeburgh. Grimes, a villainous fisherman, kills his apprentices through ill-treatment and eventually is forbidden to keep apprentices. Subsequently he is driven insane by guilt and dies. This painting depicts Grimes's second apprentice who died after falling from a cliff into the sea. He is shown here floating among the fishes, still wearing his fisherman's anchor-embroidered jersey.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

T03560 Peter Grimes's Apprentice 1977

Oil and PVA on hardboard 36 × 48 (914 × 1219)
Inscribed ‘Aldeburgh/Britten Grimes’
Apprentice/Nolan 27 March 1977' on reverse
Presented by Lord McAlpine 1983
Prov: Lord McAlpine (purchased from the artist)
Exh: Sidney Nolan, 30th Aldeburgh Festival, Aldeburgh, June 1977 (26)

Sidney Nolan has been a regular visitor to the Aldeburgh Festival for many years and was a friend of Benjamin Britten. He contributed exhibitions to several of the Festivals, including a series of studies of Shakespeare's Sonnets in 1964 and a series of flower paintings in 1968.

This particular picture was painted specially for the 30th Festival, where his exhibition was subtitled ‘An artist's response to the music of Benjamin Britten’. The theme of this work is taken from the opera Peter Grimes and shows the death of Grimes's second apprentice. Grimes, a fisherman, had seen a large shoal of fish and dragged his apprentice back to work although it was a Sunday and his day off. Making his way over-hastily down a cliff, the boy slipped and fell to his death. His dead body is seen floating among the fishes; he is still wearing the jersey with an embroidered anchor which was later found washed up on the shore.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986

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