In 1959 Arthur Boyd moved with his family to England and was not to return to Australia again until 1968. This extended absence from his homeland surely meant that upon his return he saw Australia and its landscape with a new eye. From the early 1970s until his death in 1999 he was to divide his time between his base in Sussex, England and his properties on the banks of the Shoalhaven River south of Sydney. Boyd first visited the Shoalhaven, and in particular the property Bundanon, at the invitation of the art dealer Frank McDonald for Christmas 1971. He remained at Bundanon for several weeks in January 1972 entranced by the area and painting its environs at every opportunity. In August of 1973, whilst still in England and with the assistance of Frank McDonald, he negotiated to purchase Riversdale, a property on the banks of the Shoalhaven. Then in 1979 Boyd and his family were able to acquire his beloved Bundanon from McDonald. Born of his obsession with a particular place came a group of paintings of the Shoalhaven and its surrounds that have entered the Australian psyche and that are as automatically recognisable as some of the most beloved images of our artistic legacy.
Boyd was completely taken with his new home on the Shoalhaven, Grazia Gunn recalled: "When I visited Arthur and Yvonne at Bundanon, it was like entering an enchanted part of the landscape. Arthur is entranced by the place. He is drawn back to paint the same particular features, the river, its meandering glide, the bend in the river's bed, its sandy shore, the rocky hills, the silver-white trunks of the gum trees, the dense bush, over and over. But the land Boyd paints is not only beautiful and fragile, it is powerful and dangerous, a prehistoric landscape which traps you in its primordial mysteries. To break the balance between its power and fragility is to destroy it." (G Gunn cited in B Pearce, Arthur Boyd, Sydney, 1993, p.177)
The artist's early Shoalhaven works were generally small in scale and painted on copper. These small, jewel like pictures are "strictly organized and comparatively linear. Often dividing the panel into two, or more rarely, three zones, rocks and trees run parallel to the picture plane. All detail, whether high or low, is kept at the same distance from the eye as with a zoom lens'. His meticulous detailing may remind us of Von Guerard, but the flat pattern he evolves is distinctly of the twentieth century. The straight tree trunks and small tufts of branches and leaves record the peculiar type of eucalypt indigenous to the region which holds on to the very shallow earth over rocky surfaces; fallen and upright trees combine to form a tightly ordered pattern. (These works) pay homage to bush scenes by Tom Roberts such as In a Corner on the McIntyre where huge pale boulders and dark clefts reflect themselves in the still water, or the bush background to Bailed Up, with its rising ground and finely delineated tree trunks filling the whole upper part of the canvas to the exclusion of the sky." (U Hoff The Art of Arthur Boyd, London, 1986. p.72)
On the Banks of the Shoalhaven beautifully typifies the best of Boyd's, large scale Shoalhaven landscapes that developed out of the success and acclaim of the works painted on copper. "When in 1981 Boyd returned for the third time to live on the Shoalhaven he had overcome the sense of strangeness which initially assailed him and provoked the discipline he imposed on himself in the copper plate paintings. A freer more painterly handling and more subtle conditions of light of day, characterised these new landscapes. (ibid. p.77)
"The natural beauty of the Shoalhaven area caused Boyd to marvel constantly. His paintings are a celebration of grandeur and wonder of Nature. It is to Boyd's credit that a single landscape can inspire such diversity of work. He gives us the impression that in life there are infinite possibilities, as long as we train ourselves to see." (J McKenzie, Arthur Boyd at Bundanon, London, 1994. p.42)