Arthur Boyd: Landscape of the Soul

National Exhibition Register

  • Man launching boat
    Arthur Boyd Man launching boat, 1940
    oil on board
    830mm x 945mm
    Image Credit
    Bundanon Trust Collection

About the exhibition

The land I came thro’ last was dumb with night, a limbo of defeated glory, a ghost...*

The story of Arthur Boyd is one of genius evolving out of childhood innocence to which in some ways, through extraordinary complexity, it returned at the end of a long productive life. His was an artist’s odyssey through landscape both seen and imagined.

Growing up on the outskirts of Melbourne during the 1930s, heir to a distinctive artistic dynasty, Boyd embarked on painting excursions around Mornington Peninsula galvanised in particular by a van Gogh postcard owned by his cousin Robin. Influenced by the Dutch Post-Impressionist’s Provencal ‘rhapsodies in praise of light’ as Kenneth Clark put it, Boyd rendered his own Antipodean version of Un soleil, une lumiere in rich slabs of glowing pigment, beginning one of the most astonishing careers in the history of Australian art.**

His youthful vision of landscape – already celebrated in the late 19th century by the Heidelberg school of Australian impressionists – was beautifully bookended by the final phase of his career through depictions of the Shoalhaven area in southern New South Wales where he began acquiring property in the mid-1970s. It was here antipodean light returned to his repertoire as a vital salvation.

However, between his beginning and end, weaving a peripatetic existence spanning Australia, England and Europe, there was also the landscape Boyd carried within himself. Not merely topographic landscape, but a psychic space providing both a theatre and powerful means of embracing his perception of triumphs and tragedies of the human condition. These he played out through deployment of Bible stories read to him as a child, narratives of ancient and modern literature, poetry and music; not to mention his emotional response to the evils of war and social inequities. And never far beneath the surface of his worlds of earth, sky, water and mythologies lurked a strange, unfathomable eroticism, including the horned beast of his dark account of the Greek goddess Diana, the persistent theme of persecuted lovers, the horrendous fate of Nebuchadnezzar paralleling the burning martyrs of Vietnam, and other emanations of the internal combustion of a frightening spiritual coercion that may never be fully explained.

Shortly before his death in Melbourne in 1999, Boyd left England for one last yearning look at the Australian landscape. He intended – although finally too ill to make it – a visit to Shoalhaven, where the robust shapes of the landscape had accommodated phantasms of the mind, such as The Lady and the Unicorn etchings, amongst his earliest works after negotiating purchase of the Riversdale property in 1973, chiming with his response to the extraordinary blackness of its moonless nights. Where the human vanity of Narcissus confronting his reflection was set against boulders and river edges below Pulpit Rock. And where not even the impressive spectacle of its river and terrain could appease the artist’s displeasure at the noisy pollution of human intervention.

Boyd’s profound, indelible delirium of light and dark, swinging between euphoria and disappointment through diverse notions of landscape over almost half a century, is the focus of this exhibition. Drawn principally from the pictorial collections at Bundanon, it will include a group of masterpieces borrowed from major state art museums. These will not only provide critical nodal points for the exhibition, but also serve to further highlight the rich resources of Bundanon that are part of the artist’s national legacy.

Barry Pearce, Emeritus Curator of Australian Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales.

 *From the poem The wanderer 1902- by Christopher Brennan

**Kenneth Clark Landscape into art Penguin reprint 1961 from 1949 p120

Artists and Curator

Barry Pearce

Arthur Boyd, Arthur Merric Boyd (Snr), Emma Minnie Boyd, Merric Boyd, Doris Boyd.

Available Dates and
Exhibition Details

Available dates
01/12/2019 - 15/03/2020
Exhibition size
Over 100 sq or running metres
Originating state
Organised by
Bundanon Trust
$5,000 (inc. freight)
Web Site
Accompanying materials available
Catalogue/Book, Education Kit, Exhibition Tour Manual, Installation Support Available, Interpretative/Didactic Panels, Invitations or Invitation Template, Labels, Media Kit, Public Program Opportunities, Signage
Other materials
This exhibition also includes archival material and a short film directed and produced by Catherine Hunter. The film features behind the scenes inspiration for the exhibition, interviews with curator Barry Pearce, archival footage of Arthur Boyd and his family, spectacular shots of the Shoalhaven and Bundanon landscapes and Arthur's remarkable paintings. View the video on the exhibition website link above.
Primary contact
Jennifer Thompson
Collections & Exhibitions Manager
Bundanon Trust
02 4422 2900
Secondary contact
Nicole Smede
02 4422 2100
This is a Bundanon Trust touring exhibition