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Australian art

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Figure crossing a river



Arthur Boyd

Australia, England

24 Jul 1920 - 24 Apr 1999


The 1960s were a productive time of art making for Arthur Boyd, the decade bookended by major retrospectives at Whitechapel Gallery, London (1962) and Richard Demarco Gallery, Edinburgh (1969). Boyd, by then critically and commercially established in Australia following the 'Half-caste bride' series (1957-59), had relocated to England by ship in November 1959 at the age of 40. The subsequent London paintings combined the themes and imagery from the artist's 1940s and 1950s works (Old Testament subjects, classical mythology and Australian colonial history) with a freer, expressionistic application of oil.

'Figure crossing a river' 1962, first exhibited in the Whitechapel Gallery retrospective, is similar to the Gallery's 'Figure in landscape (Nude washing in a creek III)' (1961) in that both paintings recall the engulfing bushland of the 'Upper Yarra River' 1958-9. A figure gowned in blue, guided by an angelic cockatoo, clambers from one bank to the other as the stream gushes at his ankles. The nocturnal setting and inclusion of a black dog with gleaming red eyes lend this work a dreamlike/ surreal quality. Its symbolism and lack of narrative suggests that the work is allegorical of the artist's, perhaps even national unconsciousness, the image a psychological as opposed to literal landscape that explores the relationship between nature and humanity.

Arthur Boyd was a member of the celebrated Boyd family dynasty of artists and intellectuals. He belonged to the Antipodeans group along with Bernard Smith as well as the literary and visual arts collective Angry Penguins. In 1993 the Art Gallery of New South Wales staged a retrospective of the artist's work which featured a print from the collection closely related to this particular painting, also titled 'Figure crossing a river'.




Media category


Materials used

oil on board


119.5 x 150.0 cm frame

Signature & date

Signed l.r. corner, red oil "Arthur Boyd". Not dated.


Gifted by Ausgrid on behalf of the NSW Government 2013


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Arthur Boyd

Artist profile

Works in the collection


Shown in 4 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 6 publications


Adelaide Festival of Arts, The Third Adelaide Festival of Arts 1964: Souvenir programme, 'Retrospective exhibition of the work of Arthur Boyd', Adelaide, 1964, n.pag.. 51

James Mollison, Art and Australia, 'Arthur Boyd', pg. 114-123, Sydney, Sep 1965, 116 (colour illus.).

Franz Philipp, Arthur Boyd, London, 1967, 82, 263, 264. 10.55

John Saxby (Editor), Look, 'Lost boys from the bush found in the city', pg. 10, Sydney, May 2015, 10 (colour illus.).

Whitechapel Art Gallery and Arthur Boyd, Arthur Boyd: retrospective exhibition (1962), London, 1962, 29. 124; plate no. XXXVII

Editor Unknown (Editor), Sotheby's Sydney: Important Australian Art, 22 April 2008, Australia, 2008, 82, 83 (colour illus.). lot no. 41; estimated price $150,000-250,000