Arthur Boyd and Peter Porter: The lady and the unicorn

A masterpiece of medieval French art, The lady and the unicorn tapestries have long captivated and inspired artists, writers and musicians. Among these were Australian artist Arthur Boyd and expatriate poet Peter Porter who, from 1973 to 1975, collaborated on a suite of 24 etchings and accompanying poems on the theme.

Neither artist nor poet viewed the tapestries in the flesh. Boyd and Porter’s adaption tells an alternative version of the myth sparked by the exquisite beauty and enigmatic characters of the French tapestries.

Porter portrays the unicorn as an outcast, isolated by his uniqueness; a wild creature, only tamable by a virgin. The unicorn was the only animal not to make it onto Noah’s ark, and its rarity makes it desirable to a greedy emperor who collects animals and who sends forth his hunters. Meanwhile, the unicorn falls in love with a young lady, who in turn becomes infatuated. However, she soon tires of the unicorn’s love and betrays him by aiding the emperor’s hunters. The unicorn is captured and dies in prison, before being resurrected by an angel. Boyd renders Porter’s tale in an emotionally tumultuous and erotically charged visual language.

The poems by Peter Porter are published in:
The lady and the unicorn: Arthur Boyd and Peter Porter, Secker & Warburg, London, 1975
The lady and the unicorn: a collaboration between Arthur Boyd and Peter Porter, Bundanon Trust, 2016

This suite of prints is on display in the 20th and 21st century Australian galleries on the ground floor of the Gallery, in conjunction with the exhibition The lady and the unicorn (10 February - 24 June 2018). The tapestry suite is on loan from the Musée de Cluny – Musée national du Moyen Âge in Paris

AGNSW artist profile Arthur Boyd
AGNSW artist profile Arthur Boyd
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd Invocation (1973-1974) 13.1989.1
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd Invocation (1973-1974) 13.1989.1
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The unicorn and the ark (1973-1974) 13.1989.2
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The unicorn and the ark (1973-1974) 13.1989.2
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The unicorn's survival litany (1973-1974) 13.1989.3
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The unicorn's survival litany (1973-1974) 13.1989.3
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd Christ names His cross for the unicorn (1973-1974) 13.1989.4
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd Christ names His cross for the unicorn (1973-1974) 13.1989.4
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The unicorn in the forest (1973-1974) 13.1989.5
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The unicorn in the forest (1973-1974) 13.1989.5
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd Enter the Emperor I (1973-1974) 13.1989.6
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd Enter the Emperor I (1973-1974) 13.1989.6
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd Enter the Emperor II (1973-1974) 13.1989.7
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd Enter the Emperor II (1973-1974) 13.1989.7
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The hunters set out to trap the unicorn I (1973-1974) 13.1989.8
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The hunters set out to trap the unicorn I (1973-1974) 13.1989.8
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The hunters set out to trap the unicorn II (1973-1974) 13.1989.9
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The hunters set out to trap the unicorn II (1973-1974) 13.1989.9
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The unicorn sees the Lady (1973-1974) 13.1989.10
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The unicorn sees the Lady (1973-1974) 13.1989.10
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The unicorn's love dance. The lady's acceptance (1973-1974) 13.1989.11
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The unicorn's love dance. The lady's acceptance (1973-1974) 13.1989.11
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The unicorn in love (1973-1974) 13.1989.12
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The unicorn in love (1973-1974) 13.1989.12
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The lady betrays the unicorn I (1973-1974) 13.1989.13
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The lady betrays the unicorn I (1973-1974) 13.1989.13
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The lady betrays the unicorn II (1973-1974) 13.1989.14
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The lady betrays the unicorn II (1973-1974) 13.1989.14
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The hunters trap the unicorn (1973-1974) 13.1989.15
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The hunters trap the unicorn (1973-1974) 13.1989.15
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The unicorn before the emperor I (1973-1974) 13.1989.16
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The unicorn before the emperor I (1973-1974) 13.1989.16
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The unicorn before the emperor II (1973-1974) 13.1989.17
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The unicorn before the emperor II (1973-1974) 13.1989.17
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The unicorn's prison song (1973-1974) 13.1989.18
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The unicorn's prison song (1973-1974) 13.1989.18
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The unicorn and the angel (1973-1974) 13.1989.19
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The unicorn and the angel (1973-1974) 13.1989.19
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd Death of the unicorn I (1973-1974) 13.1989.20
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd Death of the unicorn I (1973-1974) 13.1989.20
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd Death of the unicorn II (1973-1974) 13.1989.21
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd Death of the unicorn II (1973-1974) 13.1989.21
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The lady's wedding (1973-1974) 13.1989.22
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The lady's wedding (1973-1974) 13.1989.22
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The lady's bridal night (1973-1974) 13.1989.23
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd The lady's bridal night (1973-1974) 13.1989.23
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd Epilogue (1973-1974) 13.1989.24
AGNSW collection Arthur Boyd Epilogue (1973-1974) 13.1989.24