Murrumbeena, Victoria, Australia 1920 – Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 1999
The mining town (Casting the money lenders from the temple)
[Casting the moneylenders from the temple] c.1946
Open Country, Murrumbeena, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil and tempera on composition board Support: composition board
A man throws some people down the steps of a church and sets up a chain reaction of events. A truck spills its load as it smashes into a tree, the pigs on it scatter onto the street, a cripple hobbles away, a kite flier grabs a pig, muzzled dogs on leashes frighten a horse pulling a cartload of people and a funeral procession stops in the street. Only two lovers, embracing in a garden, seem to be unaffected by the turmoil. Behind this hive of activity, the factory chimney belches smoke. In the distance, cows graze in tranquil fields and birds fly over a calm sea. The long Station Pier identifies the suburb as South Melbourne and the bay as Port Phillip Bay. The man who has caused this chaos and drama is Christ, returned from the dead, to cast the moneylenders out of this suburban church.
The mining town is one of a group of multi-figured scenes with explicitly religious themes that Arthur Boyd painted towards the end of the Second World War. Son of the potter, sculptor and painter Merric Boyd, he was brought up in a family with strong religious beliefs, with his grandmother reading him stories from a large, illustrated family Bible when he was a child and his grandfather conducting prayer gatherings. In the late 1940s, he turned to the Bible for inspiration as a means of conveying universal stories. The mining town is an allegory of the impact of greed and corruption on ordinary people and their everyday lives; Boyd emphasised the reality of this by placing it in a recognisable Australian suburb.
The mining town expresses Boyd’s anger at war profiteers and at the futility of war. However, its artistic heritage is the Tower of Babel 1563, a biblical painting by 16th-century Flemish painter, Pieter Bruegel, which Boyd had seen in reproduction at the Melbourne Public Library. Like Bruegel, Boyd produced an expressive image of his local landscape and imagined activities around him.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002