THE EXPULSION, c.1986
oil on canvas
108.5 x 114.0 cm
signed lower right: Arthur Boyd
Collection of Dr Tom and Ann Rosenthal, United Kingdom, acquired directly from the artist, c.1986
Christie's, London, 8 December 2016, lot 41
Private collection, Sydney
The Expulsion, 1947 – 48, oil on board, 101.6 x 122.0 cm, in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, acquired in 1986
The original owner of The Expulsion, c.1986 was one of Arthur Boyd’s oldest friends in Britain, the renowned critic Tom Rosenthal, whose portrait Boyd painted in 1964. Rosenthal would have no doubt recognised it as a powerful re-working of an earlier painting by Boyd with the same title which the artist painted in 1947-48. Based on the Old Testament story of Adam and Eve, Boyd’s Garden is Antipodean, based firmly within the tangled scrub of a primeval Australian landscape and is equally tangled within the personal experience of the artist himself.
The earlier version was a visual howl of protest caused by John Perceval’s affair with Betty Burstall. Perceval was one of Boyd’s closest friends and become his brother-in-law when he married the young Mary Boyd in 1944. The two colleagues subsequently started a pottery business and employed a range of friends and associates to help them in the decoration of their wares. Two of these were the young couple Tim and Betty Burstall, idealistic embracers of ‘free love’, and before long the affair between Perceval and Betty began. In spite of his outward appearance as a mild and gentle-mannered person, the interior Boyd seethed with anger and a sense of betrayal, magnified by the fact that Mary was pregnant with the couple’s second child. Rather than confront directly, Boyd was compelled ‘to paint it out of my system. To expunge my own guilt by painting it and in a way face up to it. I mean guilt in a general sense, because although I do the painting, everyone else who then looks at it is in the same position as myself. I hopefully have helped them to face their guilt also.’1 However, this saga became more convoluted some years later as the Burstalls and the Boyds themselves swapped partners over an extended period in the mid-1950s.
As a result, The Expulsion may be interpreted on multiple levels. In the original version, the figure of Eve had Betty Burstall’s distinctive curly hair and her face was turned away from the pursuing angel with one arm extended to deflect its wrath. Adam was anonymous with his remorseful face buried in his hands and the whole scene was painted in naturalistic style reflective of Boyd’s fascination with Rembrandt and Breughel. In this newer rendition, the approach is more expressionist delivered in turbulent impasto paint with a marked agitation and sense of disorder. The figures of Adam and Eve are now ghostly wraiths, anonymous cyphers for the moral of the story. Boyd was never one to avoid the erotic or the sexual and it is telling that one tiny detail provides much of the focus for this painting – the very tip of Adam’s penis is bright red, sexually charged with the true cause of the original sin, not woman per se but rather humanity’s inability to resist desire. As ever, Boyd is reflecting on his own sense of guilt whilst utilising the language of Biblical grand narrative to make a larger statement.
1. Gunn, G., Arthur Boyd: seven persistent images, Australian National Gallery, Canberra, 1985, p. 35