The Prodigal Son 1946-47. Arthur Boyd.
Arthur Boyd

1920 - 1999

The Prodigal Son 1946-47

Oil and tempera on casein ground on canvas
101 x 121 cm
Signed; also inscribed on reverse
‘THE PRODIGAL SON’ 140 GNS
ARTHUR BOYD/ 8 WAHROONGA CRS./
MURRUMBENA(sic)/VICTORIA
MARK FOY’S LTD/EXHIBITION GALLERY/
LIVERPOOL STREET/SYDNEY
BLAKE PRIZE
DO NOT LAY FLAT
Exhibited: Blake Prize, Mark Foy’s Exhibition Gallery,  Sydney, 1951, catalogue no. 3
Literature: Arthur Boyd by Franz Philipp, Thames and Hudson, London, 1967, cat. 3.10, plate 30
Provenance: Douglas and Anne Cairns, then by descent

This is one of the most important paintings by Boyd still in private hands.  It was bought by Douglas and Anne Cairns, close friends of the Boyds, shortly after it was exhibited in the Blake Prize in 1951 and has remained with the family ever since. 

One of the few references to the work is in Franz Philipp’s monograph on Arthur Boyd where he states: “In a few other paintings dating from 1946-7 the figures are relatively large in scale and limited in number, while the landscape is closely set, enveloping the figures and opening out into more distant views (of this type are The Prodigal Son and The Baptism).  In the story of the Prodigal Son, pictorially one of the most favoured New Testament parables, Boyd took up a theme of many facets.  But whether its ‘low life’ aspects or the drama of the return (with its confrontation of contrition and loving forgiveness) were depicted, it was by tradition an indoor subject.  Both in his first version or in the fresco at The Grange where the return of the son forms the figurative centre of the main wall, Boyd represents it al fresco.  In the former, a painting of great beauty with a superb landscape background, anticipating that of the fresco version, he depicts Luke XV, 15 - 17, the ‘prodigal’ fallen among the swine.”  Arthur Boyd, Franz Philipp, Thames and Hudson, London, 1967, p. 48

Bernard Smith writes “For some years after 1945 religious themes occupied a prominent place in his work.  In such paintings as The Mockers and The Mourners (1945-46), a religious subject-matter was given contemporary pertinence and universal significance.  A little later Boyd turned to an intense and prolonged study of Rembrandt, a study that has since entered deeply into the mood and spiritual texture of his own work.  The religious paintings culminated in a series of murals for his uncle, Martin Boyd, the novelist, painted in 1948 at ‘The Grange’, Harkaway". Australian Painting,  Bernard Smith, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1971, p. 285

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