Menzies Art Brands



In the context of Australian art, the precociously gifted Penleigh Boyd might rightly be called the perfect painter. A member of the remarkable Boyd dynasty of artists his parents were Arthur Merric (1862-1940) and Emma Minnie (1858-1936), nephews Arthur (1920-99), Guy (1923-88) and David (1924-2011), his son the architect, Robin (1919-1971) Penleigh achieved early success. In 1913 he won second prize in the Federal capital site landscape competition, followed by the 1914 Wynne Prize.1 Badly gassed at Ypres during Wold War I, Boyds return to Australia and to painting was quickly recognised by the National Gallery of Victorias acquisition of The Breath of Spring 1919, through the Felton Bequest, in the year it was painted. This was complemented by purchase of The River 1919 by the Art Gallery of New South Wales - one a cascade of golden wattle in oil, the other a dreamily evocative watercolour, both techniques in which he excelled. Working in the tradition of Arthur Streeton (1867-1943), Boyds landscapes of these years are full of the immediacy and atmospheric freshness that comes from working en plein air. From his former teacher, Frederick McCubbin (1855-1917), he gained an abiding appreciation of the poetry of natures quieter moods. By the early twenties, Boyds landscapes are filled with a serene optimism, of a land bathed in the sunlight of peace and prosperity.

While the Yarra River, Sydney Harbour and the Hawkesbury River were among Boyds happiest painting grounds, Portsea on the Mornington Peninsula was a particular favourite. Drawn to the beachside, his first recorded watercolour, painted when he was fifteen, and one of the last paintings he made before his death, were of the Peninsula coastline.2 Winter Calm, purchased by the Castlemaine Art Museum in 1921, Portsea (Fishermans Beach) in the collection of the Bendigo Art Gallery, and The Jetty, our painting on offer, are prominent among his paintings of 1920. While Winter Calm and Morning, Portsea featured in his 1920 solo exhibition at Decoration Galleries, Melbourne, the exhibition history of The Jetty has eluded detection. Nevertheless, the outstanding quality of these works was not lost on his contemporaries, the critic for The Age writing:

Mr. Penleigh Boyd is fast making a place for himself in the front rank of Australian landscape painters.3 Significantly, he added: It is  in the Portsea series that Mr. Boyd is most individual. Portsea is the leitmotif, the coast and seascape viewed from different positions, seasons and moods. In The Jetty the winds and waves of winter hold sway, Boyd taking a high viewpoint from the hills immediately behind the jetty to lead the eye out across pearly grey, seas. White-tossed by the departing storm, they sparkle under the light breaking through the parting clouds. Swept shore wards, their curves echo the very shoreline itself, the weight of waves breaking over the jetty adding a moment of felt reality.

The view had a particular appeal; Boyds interest in the rich picturesque possibilities of the scene being developed in the related drypoint, The Jetty c1921, an impression of which is in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. In the print, Boyds focus is closer, the lines of the tree trunks and branches repeated in those of the jetty, as are the lines of grass in the movements of the sea. As with his paintbrush, the marks of his etching tool give the surface a lively appeal, evoking a sense of movement, of sea breezes and the water they skate across. This focus on the jetty continued in later works. In Portsea Pier 1921 (sold Sothebys, Melbourne, 2 May 2000, lot 33, sold for $46,000 (including buyer's premium)) the jetty juts into the blue seas protected by the sweep of the golden sand and tea-tree. A painting from the following year, Portsea Pier 1922 (sold Menzies, Melbourne, 23 March 2016, lot 15, $49,091 (including buyer's premium)) looks the other way. While sparkling light is the subject of the latter painting, it harmonises happily with pleasures of summertime, fulfilled by touches of pure colour sporting themselves to represent figures bathing, on the beach, or promenading along the pier. Its light heartedness is infectious.

1. First prize in the Federal Capital Site Competition was given to W. Lister Lister. Both Listers and Boyds winning paintings now hang in the Australian Parliament House, Canberra
2. May, A., Directors Foreword, Penleigh Boyd 1890-1923, Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, 2000, n.p
3. Landscapes by Penleigh Boyd, Age, Melbourne, 14 September 1920, p.9

David Thomas

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