Arthur Boyd is one of the most significant twentieth-century artists in Australia and his example was followed by numerous Australian painters of subsequent generations. He grew up in a family with an artistic background and was introduced to painting by his grandfather, Arthur Merric Boyd. In 1935 he attended night classes for a short while at the National Gallery School in Melbourne and in the 1940s, after being conscripted into the army during the Second World War, he met the artists connected with the Australian Contemporary Art Society and Josl Berger and Danila Vassilieff, European Expressionists who had emigrated to Australia. In 1944 he and two other artists, John Perceval and Peter Herbst, established the Arthur Merric Boyd Pottery Workshop, in which he took up his father’s profession.
Influenced by Expressionism, Surrealism and Social Realism, the works he executed during the war, which were populated by monsters and tinged with a violent and desperate atmosphere, gave way to biblical scenes inspired by the work of Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Rembrandt in the 1950s. These works reflected his family’s religious beliefs and were intended to symbolize human passions.
From 1959 to 1971 Boyd lived in England, where the Whitechapel Art Gallery mounted an exhibition of his oeuvre in 1962.While in the United Kingdom, he made numerous trips to continental Europe and began the Nebuchadnezzar series of legendary scenes set in landscapes inspired by his native country.
In 1971 he was awarded a grant from the Australian National University of Canberra which enabled him to return to Australia and shortly afterwards he bought land adjacent to the Shoalhaven River. Thenceforward the local landscape became his favourite theme. Throughout his life Boyd combined painting with pottery, sculpture and printmaking. He was also involved in the staging of Robert Helpman’s Electra in 1963.