(c) Arthur Boyd/Copyright Agency, 2018
36. ARTHUR BOYD
Arthur Boyd was one of the most significant Australian artists of the twentieth century, part of a veritable creative dynasty which included his grandparents, Emma Minnie a’Beckett (1858-1936) and Arthur Merric Boyd (1862-1940), his uncle Penleigh (1890-1923) and his parents Merric (1888-1959) and Doris (1888-1960). He began practicing art from the age of fourteen, and over a prolific career spanning more than six decades, Boyd worked in various media, including painting, drawing, printmaking and ceramics. He was a vital part of the art community, including as a member of the Antipodeans. This group of artists advocated for figurative art in Australia and included his brother David Boyd (1924-2011), his brother-in-law John Perceval (1923-2000), Charles Blackman (1928-2018), John Brack (1920-1999), Robert Dickerson (1924-2015) and Clifton Pugh (1924-1990). In August 1959, he took part in the Antipodeans exhibition curated by Bernard Smith (1916-2011), shortly after which he and his family departed for Europe.
Following the example of many Australian artists, Boyd settled in London. He lived here for over a decade, with his social circle including artists such as Blackman, Perceval, Sidney Nolan (1917-1992) and Brett Whiteley (1939-1992). ‘What the Boyds missed of Australia, the sunshine, the smell of the bush and “incredible” skies, Europe has made up for with its art galleries and exhibitions’.1 Though Boyd threw himself into life abroad, he continued to produce images of the Australian landscape, including his Bride series and commenced his Nebuchadnezzar paintings, inspired by the horrors of the Vietnam war. It was during a short trip back to Australia mid-1968 that Boyd began to conceive of a series of paintings of his late parents, which included Potter and Wife in a Field with Cow c1969.
In the Potter series, named for his father’s profession, Boyd explored the relationship between his parents, imagining their intertwined lives, a deep bond that persisted for more than four decades. Merric and Doris had died within a year of each other, in 1959 and 1960, respectively, and their family house in Murrumbeena was sold while Boyd was abroad. The five months Boyd spent in Australia in 1958 must have been shaped not only by his time away but also by a sense of change and loss. A certain melancholy emerges in Potter and Wife in a Field with Cow; here, Boyd painted the distinct faces of his parents placed on blank beige forms, ghostly apparitions that pass the viewer, whom they do not acknowledge, eyes downcast. They are certainly in Australia here, a dry field lit by hot yellow against a pale blue sky, a scene that captures the blinding brightness of the landscape, imagery that repeats throughout his oeuvre and, indeed, throughout the tradition of Australian landscape painting.
Throughout the Potter series, Boyd imagined the couple in locations from their past, mostly in the landscapes that had inspired them both, such as Potter Sketching with Wife in Bush, Potter and Wife on Beach at Arthurs Seat and Potter and Wife over a Cliff. He evoked memories of places he must have recalled all the more vividly while in Australia after almost ten years away. Boyd might also have been contemplating his own career as an artist, the way their lives crossed over and diverged and the drive to create.
Boyd was one of Australia’s most recognisable and respected artists, with an international reputation. For instance, he represented Australia at the 1958 Venice Biennale. Boyd was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia in 1992 and named Australian of the Year in 1995. He and Yvonne gifted Bundanon, his studio and 1100 hectares of property on the Shoalhaven River in New South Wales, to Australia in 1993.
1 ‘The Boyds are Busiest at Home’, The Canberra Times, 4 November 1971, p.21
Dr Kate Robertson PhD