Help the performing arts recover

21 July, 2020


This year, 2020, marks the centenary of the birth of Australian artist Arthur Boyd.

Arthur Boyd is celebrated as one of Australia’s greatest painters. An expressionist figurative artist, he confronted moral, social and environmental issues in his work, which were interwoven with personal and universal stories.

Born in Melbourne on 24 July, Boyd emerged as a key figure within the Melbourne art scene of the late 1940s as both a potter and painter. He left for London in the late 1950s, where he established an international reputation, although he never lost his antipodean perspective.

Boyd returned to Australia in the 1970s, moving to the south coast of NSW, where he purchased a rural property called ‘Bundanon’, on the Shoalhaven River in 1978.

An artist with a social conscience

Arthur Boyd was an artist with a strong social conscience. He was conscripted and served during WWII, although did not see active service. An ardent pacifist, he was deeply affected by the physical and mental suffering of the returned servicemen, and his artworks of the time depict the horrors of war and impact upon both individuals and humanity.

During the 1950s Boyd turned his attention to the plight and appalling conditions experienced by Aboriginal communities in Central Australia. This led to his confronting ‘Bride’ series of 1958-9, in which he sought provocation and change.

A Great Australian

In the later part of his career, Boyd received numerous accolades and awards for his contribution to Australian art. This culminated with his recognition as Australian of the Year in 1995 – he is the only artist to have ever received this national honour.

Boyd and his wife Yvonne reciprocated in turn, donating a huge collection of his artworks to the National Gallery of Australia, as well as gifting their beloved property ‘Bundanon’ to the Australian people in 1993.

Arthur Boyd passed away in Melbourne on 24 April 1999, aged 78 years.

Why does Arts Centre Melbourne have paintings by Arthur Boyd in its foyers?

Renowned stage designer John Truscott was the visionary behind the interiors and foyers of Arts Centre Melbourne. Artworks were integral to his conception of the theatres as a secular cathedral to the arts. Celebrating the intersection of visual and performing arts, Truscott facilitated the commission of a series of paintings by Boyd for the State Theatre Foyer. Today there are two monumental paintings – The Actor and Landscape with Dog – as you approach the foyer, while a panoramic vista of 14 landscape oil paintings adorn the Circle level for patrons to experience on their way to the theatre and during interval.

In Focus - The Actor


Arthur Boyd, The Actor, 1984


Arthur Boyd, 'The Actor', 1984
Oil on canvas
Commissioned in 1984. Gift of Lewis Construction
Arts Centre Melbourne, Art Collection
Reproduced with the permission of the Bundanon Trust


Half regal, wearing a crown, and half vagabond or buffoon, The Actor is an imposing caricature. This painting captures the duality of the performer: holding the power on stage, yet at the same time, at the mercy of their audience. In this painting there is a literary reference to Samuel Coleridge’s poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The dead cockerel draped around the actor’s neck symbolises fate, while the Australian military insignia on his breast gives the painting an Australian context and reiterates the artist’s staunch anti-war views.

In Focus - Starry Night, Shoalhaven River


Arthur Boyd, Starry Night, Shoalhaven River, 1984


Arthur Boyd, 'Starry Night, Shoalhaven River', 1984
Oil on canvas
Commissioned in 1984. Gift of Lewis Construction
Arts Centre Melbourne, Art Collection
Reproduced with the permission of the Bundanon Trust


The landscape is a persistent subject in Australian art. Boyd completed 14 views from his Bundanon property, looking across the Shoalhaven River to the far bank and Pulpit rock. The artist captures his impressions of nature, and the subtle shifts of colour and light at various times of the day.

Starry Night, Shoalhaven River, is the first painting one encounters upon entering the foyer. There is a theatricality to its location, acknowledging the night-time outside as patrons file by to attend the evening’s performance. It is also Boyd’s pictorial homage to Vincent van Gogh’s famous painting ‘Starry Night’.

In Focus - Black Cockatoo, Shoalhaven River


Arthur Boyd, Black Cockatoo, Shoalhaven River, 1984


Arthur Boyd, 'Black Cockatoo, Shoalhaven River', 1984 Oil on canvas
Commissioned in 1984. Gift of Lewis Construction
Arts Centre Melbourne, Art Collection
Reproduced with the permission of the Bundanon Trust


Throughout the Shoalhaven series, the waterline is a division between the landscape above, which is reflected below, as well as a unifying compositional strategy. In Black Cockatoo, Shoalhaven River, the harsh Australian sun strikes the rugged cliffs on the far side of the river, so that the landscape and its reflection merge into one. It is only the black cockatoo in the upper foreground that helps the viewer to orientate themselves and distinguish the landscape in the distance.


Dr Steven Tonkin
Curator Art & Design
Arts Centre Melbourne


Discover more about the paintings within the Public Art Collection.

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