Merric BOYD, Vase Enlarge 1 /4
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Merric BOYD

St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 1888 – Murrumbeena, Victoria, Australia 1959

  • England 1917-1919

Vase 1916 Place made: Murrumbeena, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: ceramics, vases earthenware, earthenware, glazed wheel-thrown, hand built

Primary Insc: incised on base, "Merric Boyd/ 1916"
Dimensions: 19.8 h 17.8 diameter cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1977
Accession No: NGA 77.102

The pioneer studio potter Merric Boyd set a new direction for Australian ceramics in the early twentieth century, making functional and decorative objects in robust interpretations of the natural environment. Born in Melbourne, he had trained in art at the School of Design from 1910, before taking employment with the Porcelain Insulator Company in Yarraville from 1914 to 1916, where he was able to fire his own work.

Boyd established his own studio at his home, Open Country, in Murrumbeena, Victoria, in 1912. Later called the Murrumbeena Pottery, this studio became a centre for the production of ‘art pottery’ by a number of Boyd’s colleagues, students and family members. His own studio work, such as this vase, reflect the sinuous naturalism that the Art Nouveau style had popularised in the late nineteenth century, but was produced in the humble spirit of the concurrent Arts and Crafts Movement.

The unique ceramics Boyd made over his 50-year career—with their characteristic motifs of gnarled, windswept trees modelled in relief against windswept skies—evoke the power and resilience of the Australian landscape.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

The pioneer studio potter, Merric Boyd, set a new direction for Australian ceramics in the early decades of the 20th century after establishing his pottery at Murrumbeena, on the outskirts of Melbourne in 1911. This vase, with its vigorous modelling and glaze colouration, reflects Boyd’s interest in using the qualities of clay to achieve sculptural form and a sense of connectedness with Australia’s natural environment. Following his service in the First World War, he worked and studied in the English Staffordshire potteries from 1917 to 1919. On his return to Australia, his robust evocations of the Australian landscape offered an alternative to the refined imported porcelains, with their floral imagery and fashionable design, available at the time.

As Australian decorative arts and design began to reflect and celebrate the post-Federation period’s burgeoning interest in native flora and fauna, crafts such as china-painting, woodcarving and metalwork entered the repertoire of leisure skills of many women. Their work celebrated Australian nature, popularising the idea of the bush in the comfort of the growing suburbs. Jessie Simpson painted this vase in 1917, placing the image of that quintessential suburban companion, the magpie, within a decorative frieze below an unusual black-painted band. Its bold design reflects the transition from the Federation period’s earnest expressions of Australia’s indigenous natural environment to the more decorative geometric style of domestic objects and decoration (now known as Art Deco) that became popular during the 1920s.

Robert Bell

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