SHOALHAVEN RIVER, c.1995

Important Australian and International Fine Art
Sydney
20 September 2017
31

ARTHUR BOYD

(1920 – 1999)
SHOALHAVEN RIVER, c.1995

oil on canvas

100.0 x 80.0 cm

signed lower right: Arthur Boyd
bears inscription verso: 5

Estimate: 
$55,000 – 75,000
Sold for $91,500 (inc. BP) in Auction 51 - 20 September 2017, Sydney
Provenance

Private collection, New South Wales

Catalogue text

Arthur Boyd returned to Australia in 1971, eager to rediscover his Australian roots, having spent over a decade in the lush English countryside. A short time after his homecoming, art dealer Frank McDonald invited Arthur and his wife Yvonne to visit his property by the banks of the Shoalhaven River, on the south coast of New South Wales. A sweltering hot day, Boyd commenced a sketch of the Shoalhaven River, thus beginning a love affair with the region and its many moods. Boyd and his wife proceeded to purchase two properties adjacent to the Shoalhaven River – ‘Riversdale’ and later ‘Bundanon’ – the wild landscape becoming one of Boyd’s most enduring subjects, painted well into his final years.

The majestic soaring cliffs which bordered the Shoalhaven remained a perennial image of this series, with the sunbathed Nowra sandstone standing timelessly above the tranquil river. As Janet McKenzie has observed; 'The natural beauty of the Shoalhaven area caused Boyd to marvel constantly. His paintings are a celebration of the grandeur and wonder of Nature. It is to Boyd's credit that a single landscape can inspire such diversity of work. He gives us the impression that in life there are infinite possibilities, as long as we train ourselves to see.’1 In his 1970s paintings of the Shoalhaven River, Boyd depicted the sandstone escarpments and untamed shrubbery using crisp lines and fine detail. However later works, including Shoalhaven River, c.1995, employed a looser painterly technique, as the artist grew to recognise the subtleties of the region. As in the present work, Boyd would at times paint with his hands, a method which enabled greater intimacy with and devotion to the subject. This physical act allowed the artist to paint with strong intent, capturing the essence of the landscape and its many nuances.

Devoid of the boats, figures and swans often featured in the series, Shoalhaven River is a pure landscape, celebrating the unspoiled bush, completely removed from urban life. The piercing blue of the sky reflected, mirror-like, on the water below, creates a scene that ‘glow[s] with well-being, joy and a sense of youth’.2Shoalhaven River does not have the religious and lyrical connotations imbued in a number of Shoalhaven paintings, instead portraying a truly enchanting summer day, with ‘air so clear and hot that light carved out the shapes of rocks like a burning scalpel’.3

Having always delighted in his painting trips along the river, Boyd believed his magical Bundanon property should belong to the Australian people. Shortly before Shoalhaven River was painted, the property was gifted to the Australian Government, to be preserved forever, in the hope that future generations may also be inspired by the beauty and brilliance of the Shoalhaven River.

1. McKenzie, J., Arthur Boyd at Bundanon, Academy Press, London, 1994, p. 42
2. McGrath, S., The Artist and the River: Arthur Boyd and the Shoalhaven, Bay Books, Sydney, 1982, p. 79
3. ibid., p. 62

MELISSA HELLARD