I love a sunburnt counrty: The Boyds of Murrumbeena

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror -
The wide brown land for me!
Dorothea Mackellar
Second stanza, My Country, circa 1908

Australia at the turn of the 20th century was a sparsely populated, mostly barren, self-governing colony of the British Empire. This vast, sweeping land was home to distinctive flora and fauna, an island continent geographically isolated by the daunting distance between it and its nearest neighbor, let alone from the shores of England and Europe where the majority of its immigrant population hailed from.

Melbourne, on Australia’s southeastern tip, was growing rapidly and encroaching steadily into the untamed Australian bushland that surrounded it. On the face of it, the modest, ramshackle home in the suburb of Murrumbeena on the city’s outskirts would not have been an obvious setting for the intellectual and artistic hub that would inspire and nurture Australia’s most famous artistic dynasty – the Boyds – and their extended family.

In the exhibition Open Country: The Murrumbeena Boyds at the Glen Eira City Council Gallery in Melbourne, curator Diane Soumilas explores ‘the creativity, influences and significance of the Boyds, one of Australia’s most extraordinary and talented artistic families and their important contribution to 20th century Australian art.’ Although the exhibit features a wide variety of ceramics, paintings, watercolors and sculptures by three generations of Boyds from 1913 through to 1964, a spiritual sensitivity and a deep connection to nature weaves its way through the exhibition, creating a vibrant dialogue between the diverse individual styles, infusing the works with a unique Australian character.

Merric Boyd was born in Melbourne in 1888 to accomplished painters Arthur Merric and Emma Minnie Boyd. Like his siblings, Merric displayed early artistic promise though he explored theology and farming before finally deciding on art as a career. While studying classical figurative sculpture and drawing, it was a serendipitous visit to a local commercial pottery that turned Merric’s full attention to the potential of clay and would eventually lead him on the path to becoming the uncontested pioneer of studio pottery in Australia.

In 1913, Merric Boyd’s parents bought him a semi-rural property in Murrumbeena that he christened Open Country. It was here that Merric built a modest pottery studio and home where, over the next half century, his aesthetics and love of the land would influence some of the most prominent Australian artists of the 20th century.

Murrumbeena ... would not have been an obvious setting for the intellectual and artistic hub that would inspire and nurture Australia’s most famous artistic dynasty.