Feb 2016


by Caroline Jones BA, MA (Art Admin.)

The Shoalhaven River was a continual source of inspiration to Arthur Boyd and, looking back over the artist’s vast body of work, formed a major part of Boyd’s oeuvre. The Shoalhaven region on the south coast of New South Wales, has historically been an area favoured by artists because of its unique geography and landscape. The area is known for its lush, green dairy farms, white sandy beaches and the majestic Shoalhaven River which snakes its way past Bundanon, the Boyd
family’s property.

Upon his return to Australia in 1971 after twenty one years living in England, Arthur and his wife, Yvonne, were introduced to the Shoalhaven River by art dealer Frank McDonald whom invited the couple to spend the weekend at his property. Here, Boyd describes the feeling of his first experience of the Shoalhaven:

‘I can remember the day vividly. It was so hot and searing the oil ran from the palette onto the sand. I never paint in the shade or wear a hat because it distorts the light on whatever I’m painting. I can remember the heat was terrifying.’1
The Boyds fell in love with the area on that January day in 1972, later purchasing two properties; Riversdale (in 1973) and Bundanon (in 1978), from which they had access to stretches of the meandering Shoalhaven and the magnificent sandstone outcrop, Pulpit Rock. From their living room they experienced the constantly changing light which turned the sky from the darkest blacks to the brightest blues, with mauves and indigos in between. ‘They experienced Australia’s seasons and catastrophes; in high summer the air so clear and hot that light carved out the shapes of rocks like a burning scalpel. When the floods came after endless days of rain, the river heaving its great brown mass towards the sea, carrying all before it.’2

The present work Riverbank with Cockatoo/Riverbank with Crescent Moon deftly conveys the magnitude of the river and the scale of the landscape beyond, in this instance, under a starry, twilight sky. Here, Boyd’s palette is dominated by mauves, reds and yellows to reflect the colours of dusk rather than the ultramarines, whites and browns which were used by the artist when rendering the river in full daylight. The bright yellow stars and crescent moon which punctuate the sky are reflected in the still waters, giving the vast canvas a sense of calm and tranquility. The soft palette of mauves, greys and pinks adds to this overall impression of serenity.

Boyd would often include the presence of a human or animal figure in his Shoalhaven works – here, he has created an ambiguous bird/bride figure which alludes to his Bride series of paintings. Intruding into the carefully constructed atmosphere of calm is the black figure which hovers bride-like above the water’s still surface. This figure brings a slightly sinister, unsettling presence to the otherwise serene composition.

Arthur Boyd’s affinity with Bundanon and the Shoalhaven saw him in the early 1980s offer the properties to the Australian Government and, after nearly ten years of bureaucratic delays, his long-held dream was fulfilled.  He believed that his magical place should belong to the people of Australia.  Boyd had hoped that the natural beauty of Bundanon and Riversdale would be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations. The public now has the privilege of visiting the Boyd’s home and studio and can experience the landscape which provided the inspiration behind such an iconic and compelling group of works. Riverbank with Cockatoo/Riverbank with Crescent Moon is part of a small group of rare works which depict the majestic river at twilight, the present work is one of Boyd’s most notable paintings of this unique subject.

1. Pearce, B., Arthur Boyd Retrospective, The Beagle Press, Sydney, 1999, p.27
2. Arthur Boyd quoted in McGrath, S., The Artist and the River: Arthur Boyd and the Shoalhaven, Bay Books, Sydney, 1982, p.62

Caroline Jones MA (Art Admin.)

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