Jon Molvig / Australia 1923–70 / Sun 1959 / Oil and enamel on hardboard / 63.5 x 51.5cm / Gift of Ray Hughes through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2016. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Otte Bartzis

Jon Molvig
Sun 1959

Not Currently on Display

Sun is one of a number of paintings inspired by Jon Molvig’s trip to Central Australia in 1958. As Molvig worked through the images from this trip, he searched for symbols that would deliver a concise account of his expressionist approach.

The distilled image of the sky, sun and land is striking and powerful, and it unequivocally communicates a message of the physical experience of the Australian landscape. Molvig’s mix of clear enamel and oil paint gives the colours a glazed look and enhances the depiction of the bright Australian light.

The work’s counterpart, Moon 1959 (private collection) is a similarly spare treatment, in which a moonlit landscape captures a contrasting temperament of the land.

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. What colours has Molvig used in Sun? What is he trying to communicate by depicting a blue sun against a yellow sky?

2. Explore the symbol of the sun in Molvig’s work. What does it represent for the artist?


1. There is a sister painting to Sun entitled Moon. Experiment using the same visual language of Molvig’s Sun and paint your own landscape featuring the moon. Find an image of Molvig’s Moon 1959 and compare it to your work.

2. Sun 1959 is texturally rich with a limited colour palette. Using encaustic/cold wax painting, experiment with building a textured surface that is inspired by nature (for example, mottled tree bark or lichen-covered rocks).

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