Arthur Boyd / Australia 1920–99 / Invocation (from ‘The Lady and the Unicorn’ portfolio) 1975 / Etching / 79.6 x 57.2cm / Gift of Philip Bacon AM through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2016 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Arthur Boyd’s work reproduced with the permission of Bundanon Trust

Arthur Boyd
Invocation 1975

Not Currently on Display

Arthur Boyd was celebrated for his paintings, but he was also recognised as a significant and innovative printmaker. Some of his best series were inspired by collaborations with the Brisbane-born poet Peter Porter (1929–2010). Their combined projects took form in limited-edition books, including Jonah (1973), The Lady and the Unicorn (1974), Narcissus (1984) and Mars (1988).

‘The lady and the unicorn’ series was inspired by the beautiful medieval tapestries by the same title at the Cluny Museum in Paris. Both Porter and Boyd were living in London at the time, and their highly successful partnership was based on friendship and an understanding that their independent visions in words and images would allow them to flourish side by side. In Porter’s version of the story, the unicorn — the only animal not to be allowed on Noah’s Ark — falls in love with a maiden, who initially reciprocates but becomes bored. The Emperor, who desperately wants to capture the rare creature, sends out his hunters after the maiden betrays the unicorn.

In addition to the book he published with Porter, Boyd produced this separate edition of the works where he was able to ensure the subtlety of the etchings and tonal range of aquatints, exceeding the quality of the reproductions in the books.

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.