With sadness aCOMMENT records the death of Lady Mary Nolan at her home The Rodd on the border of England and Wales on 6 April 2016. She was 89. Sidney Nolan’s third wife, he her second husband, her death has brought forth tributes aplenty many of which lament her passing in terms such as “a door has been closed” and “the light goes out”.
On 26 April, four days after Nolan would have turned 99, she was laid to rest with him in Highgate Cemetery East beneath the tombstone which for many years, as well as proclaiming “SIDNEY NOLAN PAINTER”, had her own name already inscribed.
Sister of artist Arthur Boyd, she married artist John Perceval in November 1944, her future husband Nolan one of the witnesses. Her name appeared in print in the fourth edition of Angry Penguins in early 1943 as the dedicatee of Max Harris’ poem “The Word”. It is little known that on Harris’ type-written manuscript, but not published, beneath the dedication are typed the German words “Verweile doch, du bist so schön” from Goethe’s Faust – in English “linger a while, you are so beautiful.” As indeed she was, this little painting by her brother Arthur a clear testament.
Of several obituaries, one stands out. By Damian Smith, it tells of his four years living and working at The Rodd during the 1990s after Nolan’s death, helping his widow in the massive task of archiving his art and letters. Damian told me years ago how Mary was like a grandmother to him – and her sense of presence shines through his writing in insights that benefit from being first-hand. His tribute can be read here.