The Australian landscape and Arthur Boyd are synonymous within the history of Australian painting. Boyd and his wife Yvonne first encountered the landscape of the Shoalhaven in 1972 when visiting Bundanon homestead at the invitation of Frank McDonald. Boyd only intended to visit Australia for a short six-month fellowship at the Australian National University in Canberra but was instantly entranced and reinvigorated by the beauty of the Shoalhaven.1
The wild and primitive nature of the landscape was alien to the soft, hazy, and manicured landscapes of England where Boyd had spent the last decades. Newly enthralled, the creative surge that followed Boyd’s extensive absence was remarkable. The present work documents an intensely important period within Boyd’s career and was provoked by his first encounter of the river. Returning to Canberra, Boyd began to paint a series of figures in the landscape of the countryside around Capital Hill. He painted using the colours and high key tones he and Yvonne saw on the Shoalhaven River. 2 In order to harness the erotic essence of the image, he focused on the mythology of the female figure which came to dominate these works while the landscape appears incidental.
Other examples such as Figure on Rock with Cup of Tea and Ram, Upper Budgong and Figure in Landscape also created in this period, feature Yvonne as the focal point. Figure and Painter features an uncertain sky moving across the top of the canvas, which meets murky hills littered with scrub and the silver trunks of eucalyptus trees. Yvonne is perched nude in the foreground, cradling a teacup and saucer whilst Boyd is seen feverishly jotting down the scene before him. Within the present work we see Boyd flirting with the idea of the artist and the muse. A vastly explored dynamic within the history of painting, it is fitting that he chose to tackle the subject in tandem with the brutishness of the landscape. The muse in her purest from is the feminine fragment of the male artist, she is the anima to his animus, the yin to his yang, and asks that he bring forth his most inspiring work.3 It is appropriate that Boyd chose to use his wife as his muse, giving credence to Yvonne who put her own ambitions aside to support her husband. An artist in her own right, Yvonne recognised her husband’s potential and stood wholeheartedly behind him. Deborah Ely notes that ‘without her, Arthur might never have found the success he did in the art world.’4
Figure and Painter highlights the affinity Boyd felt to both the Australian landscape and his wife Yvonne. The work celebrates his distinctive style and serves as an illustrative example of a critical period within his oeuvre, further highlighting his unwavering position as one of Australia’s most prominent artists.
1. ‘The 1970s’, Bundanon, New South Wales (accessed October 2022): https://www.bundanon.com.au/our-stories/the-boyds/arthur-boyd/1970s/
2. McGrath, S., The Artist & The River: Arthur Boyd and the Shoalhaven, Bay Books, Sydney, 1982, p.92
3. Greer, G., ‘The Role of the Artist’s Muse,’ The Guardian, 2 June 2008 (accessed October 2022): https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/artblog/2008/jun/02/theroleoftheartistsmuse
4. Morris, L., ‘Yvonne Boyd Dies Aged 93, the Woman behind Artist Arthur Boyd’s Success’, The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, 14 November 2013 (accessed October 2022): https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/yvonne-boyd-dies-aged-93-the-woman-behind-artist-arthur-boyds-success-20131113-2xgva.html