signed lower right: Arthur Boyd
The Collection of Millie Phillips, Sydney
Thence by descent, private collection, Sydney
The depiction of the solitary figure in the landscape was a visual theme that Arthur Boyd turned to often throughout his career. Most often – as is the case with Hillside with Figure – the model is Yvonne, Boyd’s wife. Yvonne is often depicted nude, her hair held tightly in a bun, and she is engaged in an undefined activity or ritual. The figure provides a sense of presence and importantly scale. Boyd was also continuing a time-honoured tradition in western art of the female nude placed in the landscape and interacting with nature.
Like his early buttery, palette knife paintings of the Mornington Peninsula, near Melbourne, Hillside with Figure is a brilliant exposition in line, form, texture, and colour. The painting is organised around the downward ascent of the hill. Trees and bushes are placed on each side of the central gully to create a zig-zag effect that leads the viewer’s eyes down toward the foregrounded figure. The yellow and blonde tonalities of the painted figure and hillside merge seamlessly with the olive hues and salmon pink that Boyd employs for the grasses and foliage.
Boyd’s brushwork also reveals his virtuoso performance as a pure painter. In this work, we see the blue of the sky confidently dragged across the picture surface and its application as a series of broad sweeps. Foliage is skilfully dabbed over extended branches and trunks. Spindly straps of grass are sketched and tenderly dribbled onto the work using a fine-hair brush. Alternatively, Boyd used the reversed tip of the timber handle to gouge into the surface impasto. Colours are mixed wet-on-wet as well as scumbled over thinner patches of pigment. Boyd was never averse to getting his hands dirty while painting. In Hillside with Figure there is evidence of his palm and fingers gliding over areas of paint. This technique aided the artist to flatten and spread the paint out.
Arthur Boyd compiled an impressive legacy of paintings, drawings and prints in a career that spanned six decades. While many of the works sprang from literary texts or directly from his fertile imagination, the majority were a direct and intuitive response to the Australian bush and the conditions Boyd encountered there.
Rodney James is an independent art consultant who specialises in valuations, collection management, exhibitions, research and writing, and strategic planning for art galleries and museums.
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