On Display: QAG, Gallery 10
Sleeping bride 1957–58 is from Arthur Boyd’s major allegorical series, ‘Love, Marriage and Death of a Half-caste’ (or the ‘Brides’), which arose from his travels to central Australia in 1953.
The ‘Brides’ are considered one of the most significant achievements in Australian Modernism, akin to Sidney Nolan’s ‘Kelly’ paintings from the 1940s.
Boyd’s stark representations of a mixed-race bride and groom were painted in the years of the Australian Government’s assimilation policy and the stolen generations, which saw children of mixed race removed from their homes.
In Sleeping bride, the bride is depicted sleeping alone in a dark, blue-tinged landscape, an ambiguous realm of half-light, which suggests the psychological space of the dream. It is one of the gentler, more contemplative works in the series.
The painting is replete with symbolic elements — a green beetle, a ‘ram-ox’ and the recurrent motif of a posy of flowers — variously denoting fear, lust and hope. The sleeping bride is joined by several black birds, a feature in Boyd’s work across his career.
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.