Jon Molvig / Australia 1923–70 / A ballade of native stockmen no.2 1959 / Oil on composition board / 136.5 x 86.5cm / Bequest of Errol Blair de Normanville Joyce OBE 1983 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Otte Bartzis

Jon Molvig
A ballade of native stockmen no.2 1959

Not Currently on Display

Jon Molvig’s A ballade of the native stockmen no.2 was painted after the artist spent several months travelling in Central Australia in 1958. The work depicts figures in a desert landscape and is based on the epic tale of the life and death of an Aboriginal stockman.

The stockmen appear isolated and unchangeable in an arid landscape. They wear broad-brimmed hats and loose clothing made up of bands of strong colour that suggest ceremonial markings. For Molvig, the image of the ‘tribal Aboriginal’ represented the ‘manifestation of primal instincts that have miraculously survived our modern age’.1

Molvig’s ‘Stockmen’ works appeared around the same time that Arthur Boyd began work on his ‘Love, marriage, and death of a half-caste’, or ‘Bride’ series, including Sleeping Bride 1957–58, which was also inspired by a trip to Central Australia.


1 Betty Churcher, Molvig: The Lost Antipodean, Allen Lane, Ringwood, Vic., 1984, p.75.

Jon Molvig was born in Newcastle, Australia, in 1923. After serving in New Guinea and the Philippines during World War Two, Molvig studied art for three years in Sydney, then went on to travel throughout Europe, where he encountered the German and Norwegian expressionists who would significantly influence his work.

From 1955 until his death in 1970, Molvig was based in Brisbane. A complex man, his career was characterised by radical shifts in style. Molvig was also known for his highly considered exploration of technique and the power of his symbolism.

It’s a matter of inventing symbols for what you want to say and putting the symbols down in paint . . . I believe that for every subject you tackle you must invent a new set of symbols and sometimes a new technique to say what you want to say.— Jon Molvig


1 Jon Molvig Interviewed by Hazel de Berg in the Hazel de Berg Collection [sound recording], Hazel de Berg Collection, National Library of Australia, Canberra; DeB 15, June 1961, <>, accessed July 2019.

Discussion Questions

1. Define the term ‘ballade’ and consider how it relates to Molvig’s painting. Is all art poetry?

2. Compare and contrast Molvig’s use of visual language and intended meaning in A ballade of native stockmen no.2 1959 with Sidney Nolan’s The chase 1946, from his ‘Ned Kelly’ series of paintings (National Gallery of Australia).

Classroom Activities

1. Draw the silhouette of a figure of a classmate, sporting figure or a video game character. Paint the figure using bands of colour of acrylic paint and glazing medium. Use colours that are representative of the figure’s character or identity.

2. Paint a self-portrait that reflects the composition of Molvig’s painting. Place yourself in the role of the native stockman. Replace the symbol of the animal skull with an object that is meaningful to you.

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