Arthur Boyd

Portrait of Arthur Boyd in his studio, Open Country, Murrumbeena, c, 1944 Photograph: Albert Tucker Portrait of Arthur Boyd in his studio, Open Country, Murrumbeena, c, 1944 Photograph: Albert Tucker. La Trobe Picture Collection

Arthur Merric Bloomfield Boyd AC OBE (24 July 1920 â?? 24 April 1999) was a leading Australian painter of the late 20th century. Boyd's work ranges from impressionist renderings of Australian landscape to starkly expressionist figuration, and many canvases feature both. Several famous works set Biblical stories against the Australian landscape, such as The Expulsion (1947-48), now at Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Boyd was a member of the Antipodeans, a group of Melbourne painters that also included Clifton Pugh, David Boyd, John Brack, Robert Dickerson, John Perceval and Charles Blackman.

The Boyd family artistic dynasty includes painters, sculptors, architects and other arts professionals, commencing with Boyd's grandfather Arthur Merric Boyd, Boyd's father Merric and mother Doris, uncles Penleigh Boyd and Martin Boyd, and brothers Guy and David. Mary Boyd, his sister and also a painter, married first John Perceval, and then later Sidney Nolan, both artists. Boyd's wife, Yvonne Boyd (nee Lennie) is also a painter; as are their children Jamie, Polly, and Lucy.

In 1993, Arthur and Yvonne Boyd gave family properties comprising 1,100 hectares (2,700 acres) at Bundanon on the Shoalhaven River to the people of Australia. Held in trust, Boyd later donated further property, artwork, and the copyright to all of his work.

Early years and background

A tapestry which is a greatly enlarged version of Boyd's original painting. It is one of the world's largest tapestries and hangs in the Great Hall of the Australian Parliament House.

Boyd was born at Murrumbeena, Victoria into the artistic dynasty Boyd family, the son of epileptic Merric Boyd and his wife Doris, both potters and painters. Both of Boyd's elder brothers were artists; David was a painter, and Guy a sculptor. After leaving school aged 14 years, Boyd briefly attended night classes at the National Gallery School in Melbourne where Jewish immigrant artist Yosl Bergner influenced Boyd's humanitarian values and social conscience. Boyd later spent several years living on the Mornington Peninsula with his grandfather, the landscape painter Arthur Merric Boyd, who nurtured his talent. Early paintings were portraits and of seascapes of Port Phillip created while he was an adolescent, living in the suburbs of Melbourne. He moved to the inner city where he was influenced by his contact with European refugees. Reflecting this move in the late 1930s, his work moved into a distinct period of depictions of fanciful characters in urban settings.

Boyd was conscripted in 1941 and served with the Cartographic Unit until 1944. Although he did not see active duty, Boyd's expressionistic wartime paintings, including images of cripples and those deemed unfit for war service, were considered painful images of the dispossessed and the outcast.


Following the war, Boyd, together with John Perceval founded a workshop at Murrumbeena and turned his hand to pottery, ceramic painting and sculpture. Boyd was keen to stand apart from the modernist Heide Circle founded by art patrons John and Sunday Reed who supported Albert Tucker, Sidney Nolan, and Joy Hester amongst others; considered by Boyd as an emotional hothouse. In the 1940s he became an active member of the Angry Penguins artistic and literary group. The aim of Angry Penguins was to challenge the conventions of art making in Australia and introduce a radical modernism that represented a new language of painting in Australia.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Boyd traveled to Victoria's Wimmera country and to Central Australia including Alice Springs and his work turned towards landscape paintings. During this period, perhaps his best-known work comes from his Love, Marriage and Death of a Half-Caste Bride series that represented his observations of the indigenous Australian people who inhabit the Australian outback. Boyd witnessed tribal rituals and rites of indigenous Australians, assimilated with Western traditions; that then followed on The Bride series 1957-1959. First exhibited in Melbourne in April 1958, the series met a mixed reaction, as it did later that year in Adelaide and Sydney. Following the 1999 acquisition of Reflected Bride 1 by the National Gallery of Australia, the gallery's director Brian Kennedy commented in 2002:

The Bride paintings are among the greatest expressions of conscience by an Australian artist. Brilliantly executed and of sustained quality, Reflected Bride 1 speaks to contemporary Australia, beseeching reconciliation, understanding and a tolerant, compassionate meeting of old and new cultures.

Boyd's paintings are not pretty, however, and carry a pervasive magical and somewhat menacing atmosphere. It is as if the figures and the landscape are one. The bride rises from the stream, an Ophelia caught by a groom whose foot hooks a tree. The bride is staring at an absurd mask-like white brideâ??s head which appears to glow out of the forest. This is a surreal wilderness, a strange place of nightmarish dreams.

In 1958, one of Boyd's sculptures was installed within the grounds of the Melbourne Olympic Swimming Pool.

Ten years in Europe

Boyd represented Australia with Arthur Streeton at the Venice Biennale in 1958, where his Bride series was well received.

Drawn to European styles of painting, together with his wife, Yvonne (nee Lennie), also a painter, and their three young children, Boyd moved to Hampstead, London in 1960. The same year he held his first London exhibition. Boyd started receiving commissions for ballet and opera set designs, and, after taking up etching and returning to ceramic painting, in 1966 he began the Nebuchadnezzar series in response to the Vietnam War as a statement of the human condition. While in London, Boyd entered another distinct period with his works themed around the idea of metamorphosis.

Boyd returned briefly to Australia in 1969 and exhibited at the Antipodeans Manifesto exhibition in the Whitechapel gallery.

He produced several series of works, including a collection of fifteen biblical paintings based on the teaching of his mother, Doris. Later he produced a tempera series about large areas of sky and land, called the Wimmera series.

Return to Australia

Some of Arthur Boyd's paintings in the pub in Tiboboora, in the far north-west of New South Wales in 1976

The recipient of a Creative Arts Fellowship from the Australian National University, in 1971 Boyd and family returned to Australia as one of Australia's most highly regarded artists. In 1975, Boyd donated several thousand works including pastels, sculptures, ceramics, etchings, tapestries, paintings and drawings to the National Gallery of Australia.

In 1978, Arthur and Yvonne Boyd purchased properties and settled permanently at Bundanon on the Shoalhaven River. The following year, ABC TV and BBC TV co-produced the television documentary film, A Man of Two Worlds, based on Boyd's life and work. During the latter part of Boyd's painting career, his landscape works were based on the Shoalhaven River. At first encounter, Boyd was a little overwhelmed to paint the area; he found the scenery rugged and wild, vastly different from the landscapes he knew. But over the years, painting scenes of the Shoalhaven River and the surrounding bushland, he befriended the formidable landscape. This resulted in a significant series of paintings that are not simply landscapes but rather, a fusion of Boyd's European and Australian backgrounds.

Boyd donated a villa in Tuscany to the Australia Council for an artist-in-residence program in 1982. In 1984, he was commissioned to design a tapestry based on the painting Untitled (Shoalhaven Landscape) for the Great Hall at the new Parliament House in Canberra. The work is one of the world's largest tapestries. Yet Boyd could not find the strength to fight for the retention of the lower rectangle ablated by the building consultants. This tapestry was produced in the Victorian Tapestry Workshop, Melbourne. He also produced sixteen canvasses for the foyer of the Victorian Arts Centre in the same year.

Boyd again represented Australia at the 1988 Venice Biennale with eight major works; and at the 2000 Venice Biennale. Boyd was commissioned to paint Earth and Fire for the cover of the 28 November 1988 Time magazine special issue dealing with environmental conservation in Australia.

Final years

In 1993 the Australian Government accepted the gift of Bundanon, valued at the time at A$20 million. The 1,100 hectares (2,700 acres) property owned by Arthur and Yvonne Boyd was given to the people of Australia. Located approximately 20 kilometres (12 mi) west of Nowra, the gift was entrusted to the Bundanon Trust, along with further gifts by Boyd, including copyright of all of his artwork, and several thousand works of art from five generations of Boyds, and other Australian artists. These properties provide an environment that promotes visual arts, writing, music and other performing arts, and the promotion of education and research in the arts.

In 1997 for the first time Boyd exhibited together with the six members of his artistic dynasty under one roof; with brothers David and Guy, son Jamie, and nieces Lenore and Tessa Perceval. The exhibition entitled the Best of Boyd comprised 80 paintings and 40 bronze sculptures. The exhibition was held in Galeria Aniela Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Park, NSW. Documentary reviews were shown on the ABC TV Australian National News, 18 May 1997 and the ABC TV Sunday Afternoon, June 1997.

Boyd died in 1999 in Melbourne, aged 78 years; survived by his wife Yvonne, their son Jamie, and daughters Polly and Lucy.


Boyd was a master at manipulating elements to express himself. He developed new techniques when he was still a teenager and later changed technique depending on his preferred style, media, location and what he was depicting.

He would often use loose strokes of thickly coated brushes. He applied paint with his fingers and palm because it is quicker, while the body contact directly connected him with the painting. He believed this allowed for a greater sense of freedom and pleasure from the act of painting.


Boyd is appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire on 1 January 1970 for services to art. On 26 January 1979, Boyd was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia for service to the visual arts. In recognition of his service to the visual arts and to the development of Australian artists and crafts people, Boyd was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia on 8 June 1992.

In 1995, the Prime Minister announced Boyd as Australian of the Year for his contribution to Australian art and his generosity to the Australian people.

Australia Post honoured Boyd in 1998 with a series of postage stamps produced with his photo and examples of his work.

Notable sales of works

  • 2000: Dreaming Bridegroom I (1957) sold for A$957,000.
  • 2000: Mourning Bride I (1958) sold for A$833,000.
  • 2011: Frightened Bridegroom (1958) sold for A$1.2 million.
  • 2012: Dry Creek Bed, Alice Springs (1953-54) sold for A$1.2 million.
  • 2012: Bride Running Away (1957) sold for A$1.68 million, setting a new record for a Boyd work.

Selected works

Boyd's subjects were often mythical, realistic, malformed people and monsters, depicting a tragic drama.

  • Creek near Rosebud, 1937
  • The Seasons, 1944
  • The Lovers, 1944
  • David and Saul, 1946
  • Wimmera Landscape, 1950
  • Merric Boyd, 1952
  • Half Cast Child, 1957
  • Moses leading the People, 1957
  • Lovers with a Bluebird, 1962
  • Figure supporting Back Legs, 1973
  • Riversdale Bushland, 1976
  • Flood receding one Winter Evening, 1981
  • Bathers Pulpit Rock, 1985


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