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Lot 63
Arthur Boyd
Persecuted Lovers - Study, 1957-58
7 June 2016, 18:30 AEST
Sydney, NCJWA, Melbourne, Como House and Sydney

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Arthur Boyd (1920-1999)

Persecuted Lovers - Study, 1957-58 Also known as The Lovers - Study
signed lower right: 'Arthur Boyd'
oil and tempera on composition board
25.3 x 30.5cm (9 15/16 x 12in).


Australian Galleries, Melbourne (label attached verso)
Mrs Gerald Osborne, Melbourne
Australian Galleries, Melbourne
Private collection, Melbourne
Australian Galleries, Melbourne
Private collection, Melbourne
Australian Galleries, Melbourne
Private collection, Melbourne, acquired from the above in 1984

Exhibition by Arthur Boyd: Allegorical Paintings, Australian Galleries, Melbourne, 22 April - 5 May 1958, cat.17, 40gns.
Spring Exhibition 1979, Joseph Brown Gallery, Melbourne, 17-30 October 1979, cat.140 (illus.) as Sketch for Persecuted Lovers
Arthur Boyd: The Bride, Heide Park and Art Gallery, Melbourne, 8 November - 14 December 1986, cat.7
Arthur Boyd: Brides, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, 29 November 2014 - 9 March 2015, cat.21 (illus.)

Franz Philipp, Arthur Boyd, Thames and Hudson, London, 1967, cat.9:12a, pp. 145, 146, 258
Geoffrey Smith, 'Catalogue Raisonne: Arthur Boyd's Central Australia Landscapes 1953-1960 and Bride Series 1954-1960', in Kendrah Morgan, Arthur Boyd: Brides, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, 2014, cat.21, p.63 (illus.)

Persecuted Lovers, 1957-58, oil and tempera on composition board, 137.2 x 182.9cm, in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

The Persecuted Lovers – study is the finished oil and tempera study for Arthur Boyd's iconic, large-scale, Persecuted lovers 1957-58, a highlight in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia and among the most highly regarded works of his Bride series, emanating 'a pure and intense power', in the words of Professor Sasha Grishin.1

While Boyd was a consummate draftsman working through ideas in sketches and drawings, it was rare for him at this time to make smaller-scale oil studies. His early biographer Franz Philipp comments on the unusual fact that Boyd produced a small group of studies for the Bride series, describing it as 'quite exceptional in Boyd's artistic gestation'. This probably reflects Boyd's own sense of hesitancy with this complex series replete with ideas difficult to express in 1950s Australia about race, sex, violence and love all densely posited in a landscape more conventionally associated with sweeping plains and pastoral motifs. The studies were thus a way for Boyd to approach the series and to come to terms with, as Philipp puts it, '...the difficulty of handling, or attempting to handle large areas...They [the pictures] are more ambitious in the sense that they are bigger paintings; there was more in them and the content was more difficult in a way to handle'.2

Boyd clearly rated The Persecuted Lovers – study highly as it was included in the historic first exhibition of his Bride series Love, Marriage and Death of a Half-Caste at Australian Galleries in April 1958, one of the watershed moments in Australian art history. The exhibition comprised 16 large paintings, 3 studies, a sketch and a ceramic tile. The series had taken some years to gestate since Boyd's initial travels to Central Australia in 1953 at the age of thirty-three. He reached Alice Springs by the old Ghan train and then by road to the remote mining settlement of Arltunga. Growing up in cosseted Melbourne, despite coming from a relatively bohemian, liberal, family did not prepare him for the shock he felt witnessing the plight of Aboriginal people in outback Australia. He was aggrieved at the negligence and inhumanity with which white Australia treated Indigenous people. He immediately began to fill sketchbooks with drawings including those of a scene he had witnessed on the Alice Springs road of a truck transporting a group of Aboriginal brides. Their white wedding finery was in stark, surreal contrast to the bleak conditions in which they otherwise found themselves, carried as they were in a truck usually reserved for livestock and farm equipment.

This vision was the catalyst for the eventual series that became one of Australia's most enigmatic and provocative morality tales: a mixed-heritage bride and bridegroom persecuted and hunted, their love consummated but outlawed and inevitably met by a cruel and racist death. Boyd's singling out of their plight for his narrative locates an extreme form of cruelty and intolerance in humanity as those with mixed-heritage were considered neither black nor white and were isolated and neglected outsiders subjected to a particular form of persecution and bigotry.

Philipp comments that in both this work and the related sketch for Persecuted Lovers, unlike the larger version, 'the Bride is naked, the black-faced 'persecutor' wears some kind of tight black clothing... In both studies the painterly treatment is freer and more sensuous'.3 Boyd condensed the scene dramatically with the entangled lovers vulnerably lying on the green grass, their intimacy destroyed by the menacing figure, brandishing his gun at point blank range. Here the bride takes on the persona of a white woman, her eyes locking with those of her killer, her bridegroom protectively but lustfully embracing her and gazing into her startled face. The only release in the image is the sprouting bouquet from his left ear, an image that Boyd had drawn during his visit to Alice Springs and a motif that would recur continuously throughout his work.

Many of the most important paintings from the series are now in national, state and regional galleries in Australia and London. The series is one of the most important narrative cycles in Australian Art history and this work in particular contains a number of the key iconographic elements and themes critical to Boyd's oeuvre such as the entangled naked figures embracing, ill-fated love, sex, violence and death, persecution and redemption, set within the context of a verdant and ripe nature that overcomes all.

1 Sasha Grishin, 'Arthur Boyd's Brides paintings reunited at Melbourne's Heide Museum', Sydney Morning Herald, 30 January 2015
2 Franz Philipp, Arthur Boyd, Thames & Hudson, London, 1967, p.145
3 ibid., p.146

Additional information