Arthur Boyd arrived in London in 1960 intending to stay for a few months. So propitious was his arrival however, with Australian art enjoying international esteem, six months turned into twelve years.
But it was not just the reception of his work that encouraged Boyd to stay, including a successful retrospective at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1962. It was London's depth of art collections that deepened his growing passion for mythology as a vehicle to explore the human condition.
At the National Gallery Boyd saw one masterpiece in particular that galvanised him towards a new series: Titian's late 'Death of Acteon' on loan from the Earl of Harewood; depicting Acteon being turned by the chaste goddess Diana into a stag after the hapless hunter had seen her bathing naked in a stream; following which, he became mortally attacked by his own hounds.
The painting recently acquired, shown originally at Boyd's Whitechapel retrospective, is a supreme masterpiece of the series. Against a background suffused with bituminous sexuality, a white nude with red hair glows like an hallucination. Armless and blind – formally a response to Picasso – Diana is attacked in turn by a beast of her construction, her torso wheeling on a diagonal axis towards oblivion.
This is an Australian icon of ongoing resonance, especially with Boyd's rich graphic output during the 1960s; connecting to an old master tradition but at the same time embracing the psyche of one of Australia's greatest modern artists.
Figure and Ram
oil on canvas
160.0 x 167.2 cm
Signature & date
Signed l.r., black oil "Arthur Boyd". Not dated.
Purchased with funds provided by the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales 2009
Not on display
© Reproduced with permission of Bundanon Trust
Shown in 3 exhibitions
Arthur Boyd retrospective (1962), Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, Jun 1962–Jul 1962
Survey 1963: Paintings from Galleries in all States (1964), Museum of Modern Art and Design, Melbourne, 25 Feb 1964–12 Mar 1964
Australian Collection Focus: some recent acquisitions: - Nolan, Boyd, Fairweather, Rees (2010), Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 16 Oct 2010–09 Jan 2011
Referenced in 6 publications
Dr Ursula Hoff, The art of Arthur Boyd, 'Part II 1959-1971', pg. 52-62, London, 1986, 53, 54, (colour illus.), 243. cat.no. 75; titled 'Figure carrying a ram'; Private Collection, Melbourne.
Museum of Modern Art and Design, Survey 1963: Painting from Galleries in all States, Melbourne, 1964. cat.no. 3; titled 'Figure and Ram'; Collection Sunday Reed
Barry Pearce, Look, 'Arthur Boyd: Society supports iconic purchase', pg. 13, Sydney, Sep 2009, 13 (colour illus.).
Franz Philipp, Arthur Boyd, London, 1967, 106, 118, 119-120,. plate no. 105
Jill Sykes (Editor), Look, Sydney, Apr 2012, 11 (colour illus.).
Whitechapel Art Gallery and Arthur Boyd, Arthur Boyd: retrospective exhibition (1962), London, 1962, (illus.), 29. plate no. XXXIV; cat.no. 123; titled 'Figure carrying a ram'; Lent by the artist.