In 1957, Arthur Boyd developed his first series of Bride images, known more formally as Love, Marriage and Death of a Half-caste. The early works in the series had as their focus the relationship between Australia's white and indigenous occupants. By the 1960s, however, this earlier political emphasis had changed: Boyd's attention was fixed more on the subject of the bride in the landscape.
In his 1960s images, Boyd frequently combined the motif of a bride drinking from a river with another favoured visual trope "the diagonally plunging figure with the bridal gown flared-out and bell-shaped there is a play with the poetic ambivalence of metaphoric associations: the drinking bride is insect-like, as is the washing figure, not spider now but rather dragonfly or butterfly, a white bridal insect lost and watched in wild solitude." (F. Phillipp, Arthur Boyd, London, 1967, p.100).
The bride's appearance in Bride on the Shoalhaven is reminiscent of these works from the 1960s, particularly Bride Drinking from a Pool. Nevertheless, in Bride on the Shoalhaven, painted in the mid-1980s, the wild solitude of Boyd's 1960s landscape has lightened, becoming less embedding of the figure it surrounds: a shift perhaps prompted by Boyd's acquisition of his beloved Bundanon.
The artist first visited Bundanon, a property located on the Shoalhaven River on the south coast of New South Wales, in 1971. Boyd felt an immediate affinity with the area and in 1973 purchased the nearby property of Riversdale, subsequently acquiring Bundanon in 1979.
The canvas follows a format familiar to Boyd's Shoalhaven paintings of the mid-1970s, with the surface broken up into horizontal bands containing cobalt blue sky, the steep slope of the riverbank and the river. The disparate elements are linked by both the textural application of the paint, as well as the immense figure of the bride, who swoops, bird-like, into the water. Her vertical movement is replicated by the trunks of the trees, which divide the canvas by stripes of white, grey and taupe.
Boyd had an intimate knowledge of the landscape that he painted, acquired through both living and working in the area. Furthermore, his prolific production of small Shoalhaven landscapes on copper, which were characterised by precision and detail, helped to imbue his larger scale paintings with a delicacy and lightness of touch. By the late 1980s, the Shoalhaven was the source of inspiration for much of Boyd's work, but this did not result in the artist abandoning his earlier imagery and themes. Exemplified by Bride on the Shoalhaven, Boyd unites the mystical figure of the bride with the exquisite Shoalhaven landscape.