Menzies Art Brands

ARTHUR BOYD Bride in Pink Landscape


Boyd had taken the idea of a half-caste groom wooing a half-caste bride, worked it into a series of large-scale paintings, each with their characters caged within the four sides of the picture plane, and constructed a kind of passion play about the tribulations associated with the pursuit of love.’1

Boyd’s Bride series of paintings was the beginning of the artist’s international career - it was this group of paintings, begun in 1957, which launched his career onto the international stage. These works were a remarkable departure from the soft, painterly landscapes which he had come to be known for. The impetus behind the works came from Boyd’s trip to central Australia and Alice Springs where he witnessed the terrible state of the Aboriginal shanty towns and, most memorably, a truck carrying a group of Aboriginal brides, whose white wedding dresses contrasted sharply with the shabby, rambling truck which was usually reserved for transporting cattle. In Boyd’s own words, he had witnessed ‘a race of people caught between two cultures, and the implication in it of something universal.’ 2

Given the conservative Government policies of the day, Boyd’s Bride paintings would have appeared to most as extraordinary for their time and quite unsettling. The themes of love, marriage, race and humanity were explored in depth by Boyd in this series, territory mostly untouched by commercially successful artists of that era. The critical response to the Bride paintings exhibited at Australian Galleries, Melbourne in 1958, was both enthusiastic and cautious. Some critics could not comprehend his departure from the success he had made with landscape painting while others applauded the haunting intensity and compelling power of the images.

Boyd’s Bride paintings demonstrate his ability to translate the universal sources of inspiration which the artist drew upon in his work. Marc Chagall’s (1887-1985) images of floating brides and grooms clearly had a significant influence on Boyd, as did the figurative style of the mourning Madonna in Rogier van der Weyden’s (1400-1464) The Lamentation c1441. Bride in a Pink Landscape was painted after the original Bride series however, is characteristic of the best of Boyd’s Bride paintings. The artist depicts the white bride figure prone on the dark ground, with only a lone, black crow watching over her. Boyd’s use of contrasting soft and dark colours successfully creates in this work a sense of drama and unease.

The Charles Chauvel film, Jedda (1955), may have been the impetus behind Boyd exploring the issues of indigenous and non-indigenous relations. Chauvel’s film was the first to feature indigenous actors in the lead roles. It told the story of an Aboriginal girl reared by a white family who is later wooed by an Aboriginal outcast, Marluk. The story ends tragically when the local police find issue with the relationship. Jedda was one of the first filmic explorations into inter-racial relations and opened up this topic to other practicing artists.

Arthur Boyd has become one of Australia’s most well-known and loved artists of the twentieth century. He produced an immense volume of work, continuously developing his style over six decades however maintaining his own characteristic sensibilities. Former Prime Minister Paul Keating describes here the contribution which Boyd and his art has made to Australian art history - ‘It has fallen to people like Arthur to define what it is to be Australian on canvas and to let us understand that we’re not Europeans anymore, that we’re not anything other than Australians’.3

1. Pearce, B., Arthur Boyd Retrospective, The Beagle Press, Sydney, in conjunction
with the Art Gallery of New South Wales, p.21
2. ibid., p.20
3. Paul Keating, quoted in Arthur Boyd’s obituary, ABC Radio, April 24, 1999

Caroline Jones BA, MA (Art Admin.)

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