Grass Landscape c.1974 signed 'Arthur Boyd' lower right oil on canvas 109.5 x 115cm (43 1/8 x 45 1/4in).
PROVENANCE: Australian Galleries, Sydney (label attached verso) Private Collection, Sydney
Arthur Boyd was first introduced to the beauty of the vast central western Victorian landscape when he was invited by his uncle, the novelist Martin Boyd, to design and paint murals for his dining room at 'The Grange' in Harkaway. Martin had been living overseas for twenty seven years and returned to Melbourne in 1947, purchasing 'The Grange' from the à Beckett family. Arthur Boyd moved into the home with his family and was able to completely devote himself to painting. Having recently spent time away from painting to concentrate on his ceramics, Boyd felt re-energised and motivated to paint the local scenery around Harkaway and Berwick and completed some of his most beautiful landscapes there.
In the summer of 1948 - 49, Boyd travelled with his friend Jack Stephenson, a poet, to Horsham where he painted the countryside near the border of the Wimmera River. The subdued beauty of this area inspired him to return many times over the next few years. "He discovered there the hint of something that had drawn other painters of his generation, a subject tentatively recorded by only a few artists of the nineteenth century and touched upon by even fewer: the empty spaces of the great interior."1
Boyd's landscapes painted from these regions were widely well-received, possibly because their straw-like palette was similar to that of the popular Heidelberg School works. Grass Landscape is most likely Boyd's rendering of a scene from the central western Victorian landscape; the flat foreground with scattered trees in the distance and the lone black bird, all characteristic of the type of landscape known as the 'Wimmera landscape'. Franz Philipp describes here the landscape which Boyd came to know so well, "dry, semi-arid, sheep and wheat country, turning yellow and sun-parched in summer, with patches of burnt-off stubble or weed...he invariably includes some sign of life, human or animal: a ramshackle shed, scattered thin, dusty sheep, a hunter followed by his slow, thirsty dog, some distant houses or even only a bird..."2 Arthur Boyd consistently alternated between naturalistic and imaginative phases in his work; he would often return to the landscape genre after an exhaustive period of creative output. There is a certain sense of serenity present in Boyd's depictions of the landscape, particularly after viewing his chaotic, figurative works painted from the imagination, such as Nebuchadnezzar or his Biblical subjects. The palette Boyd chose for many of his landscape works is optimistic when compared to the dark tones of his Bride series. Clearly, Boyd found his local surroundings to be uplifting and inspiring; this sentiment is felt in the beautiful renderings of the countryside that he returned to paint over and again throughout his long and distinguished career.
Arthur Boyd has become one of Australia's most well-known and loved artists of the twentieth century. He produced an immense volume of work, continuously developing his style over six decades however maintaining his own characteristic sensibilities. Former Prime Minister Paul Keating describes here the contribution which Boyd and his art has made to Australian art history - 'It has fallen to people like Arthur to define what it is to be Australian on canvas and to let us understand that we're not Europeans anymore, that we're not anything other than Australians'.3
1 Barry Pearce, Arthur Boyd: retrospective, Art Gallery of New South Wales, The Beagle Press, 1999, p. 20 2 Franz Philipp, Arthur Boyd, Thames and Hudson, London, 1967, p. 62 3 Paul Keating, quoted in Arthur Boyd's obituary, ABC Radio, April 24, 1999