Arthur Boyd / Australia 1920–99 / Bathers and Pulpit Rock 1984–85 / Oil on canvas / 242.3 x 456.2cm / Purchased 1987 with the assistance of Arthur Boyd and Stuart Purves, Australian Galleries / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © QAG

Arthur Boyd
Bathers and Pulpit Rock 1984–1985

On Display: QAG, Gallery 3

Bathers and Pulpit Rock is one of Arthur Boyd’s ‘Shoalhaven River’ canvases, a series from the mid 1980s featuring imagery from classical antiquity and Western mythology. The unifying element in these paintings is the figure of Mars, the Roman god of war.

This work compares the classical concept of sport as fitness for war with the Australian pursuit of pleasure through outdoor sporting pursuits and their intrusion into the landscape.

Boyd examines how conflict emerges in the Australian environment and is shaped by it, emphasising an outdoors hedonism that wars with the spirit, ravaging land and lives, the flipper-wearing bathers resembling amphibian monsters invading the landscape.

The bathers wrestle beneath the craggy form of Pulpit Rock, which is located opposite the Bundanon homestead where Boyd resided. Boyd’s depiction of the rock has affinities with the landscapes of Cézanne.

Arthur Boyd is arguably the most pictorially and creatively inventive of the twentieth-century Australian painters.

Born in 1920 in the Melbourne suburb of Murrumbeena, he entered into a family of painters, printmakers, potters and sculptors. From the age of 14 he lived at Rosebud on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, with his grandfather, landscape painter Arthur Merric Boyd. It was here that he began to paint full-time.

Boyd was conscripted into the army in 1941 and, though he did not actively serve in World War Two, the influence of war on his work is evident in the symbolism and atmosphere of psychological torment throughout his oeuvre.

Alongside his contemporaries Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker and Joy Hester, Boyd shared a friendship with John and Sunday Reed.

During his travels through central Australia in 1953, Boyd was exposed to the disparity of living conditions between Indigenous and white Australians. In 1959 he moved to England, returning to Australia in 1968.

His 1973–88 paintings were chosen as the first to be exhibited in the new Australian Pavilion at the 1988 Venice Biennale.