Murrumbeena, Victoria, Australia 1920 – Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 1999
1937 Title Notes: 'Portrait of Mary Boyd' adjusted 22/12/2009 as requested by Anna Gray
Place made: Open Country, Murrumbeena, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on prepared canvas on hardboard Support: prepared canvas on hardboard
Arthur Boyd is one of Australia’s most celebrated artists and is best known for his paintings of the Australian landscape, biblical scenes and the Bride series (Love, marriage and death of a half-caste 1953–56). He was born in 1920 to the potters and painters Merric and Doris Boyd, and learnt to pot and paint from a young age on the large family property at Murrumbeena, Victoria.
Boyd frequently painted family and friends as a way of trialling new ideas, materials and techniques of painting. Mary Boyd is Boyd’s earliest portrait of his youngest sibling (born 1926), and was painted when he was 17 years old. In this portrait Boyd depicted an 11-year-old Mary at an unconventional, yet very relaxed angle, alluding to the familiarity between the painter and his sitter. Boyd positioned the face and torso of his sister across the lower left of the canvas, almost as though she was about to slide off its edge. Behind the figure he used striking bright yellow hues with intersecting blue diagonal lines. These lines mirror Mary’s position and bring to mind the curves and patterning of a family settee.
Boyd’s brushstrokes are energetic and expressive. From a young age he experimented with his application of paint, sometimes squeezing directly from the tube—thanks to supplies from an uncle’s paint factory and his grandfather’s encouragement. This experimentation is evident in the thick and vigorously applied paint of Mary’s red hair; a tangled, wild and unruly mass that exudes the liveliness and innocence of her age. Boyd appears to have curbed his energy in the portrayal of Mary’s face. Her blue eyes are luminous and energised yet stare distractedly outside the painting’s frame, as though lost in thought.
Mary Boyd married artist John Perceval in 1944, Arthur Boyd’s wartime acquaintance. The pair raised four children, three of whom were later to become painters. The couple separated in the early 1970s and in 1977 Mary married Sidney Nolan. Lady Nolan still lives on an estate in Britain that she and Nolan ran as a centre for communal art activities.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray Australian portraits 1880–1960 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010