Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Boyd, William Merric (1888–1959)

by Marjorie J. Tipping

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

This is a shared entry with:

Arthur Merric Boyd (1862-1940), artist, was the father of William Merric Boyd (1888-1959), potter, and Theodore Penleigh Boyd (1890-1923), artist.

Arthur Merric was born on 19 March 1862 at Opoho, New Zealand, son of Captain John Theodore Thomas Boyd, formerly of County Mayo, Ireland, and his wife Lucy Charlotte, daughter of Dr Robert Martin of Heidelberg, Victoria. The Boyds came to Melbourne in the mid 1870s and on 14 January 1886 Arthur married Emma Minnie à Beckett, artist; they settled at Brighton. In 1890 they left for England to live at the à Beckett seat, Penleigh House, near Westbury, Wiltshire. They both exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1891 after which they moved briefly to Paris. On their return to Melbourne in 1894 they lived at Sandringham. In 1898 their works were included in the Exhibition of Australian Art in London at the Grafton Galleries. The family travelled overseas from time to time, and spent summers in Tasmania where the scenery inspired some of Boyd's best work; he exhibited regularly with the Victorian Artists' Society.

At some time Boyd had studied to become an engineer but he did not practise. He was an artist of charm and ability, who painted best in water-colour, without reaching the heights of his contemporaries in the Heidelberg school. While he was friendly with Frederick McCubbin and E. Phillips Fox, he did not associate much with other artists. According to his son Martin (1893-1972), the novelist, he was, if a little remote, just and generous, with a tolerant and enlightened way of bringing up children.

His wife Emma Minnie (1858-1936) was born on 23 November 1858 at Collingwood, second daughter of William Arthur à Beckett and his wife Emma, née Mills. Many critics believe her work to be superior to her husband's. She, too, painted landscapes in Tasmania and many seascapes, but she had a particular talent for genre. At their farm at Yarra Glen she painted the four seasons in a frieze around the dining-room. She was lively, handsome, cultivated and compassionate. Restless, she had something of the religious mystic in her make-up. After her death at Sandringham on 13 September 1936, her husband lived at Rosebud where he was joined by his grandson Arthur, to whom he gave painting lessons. Boyd died at Murrumbeena on 30 July 1940, survived by two sons and a daughter.

His son William Merric, known as Merric, was born on 24 June 1888 at St Kilda, and attended Haileybury College and Dookie Agricultural College. Unsuccessful as a farmer at Yarra Glen, at one time he considered entering the Church of England ministry; he was the model for 'a difficult young man' in Martin Boyd's novel under that title. However, in 1908 at Archibald McNair's Burnley Pottery, he successfully threw his first pot. His parents helped to provide a workshop for him at Murrumbeena and pottery kilns were established there in 1911 (destroyed by fire in 1926).

Merric studied at the Melbourne National Gallery School under L. Bernard Hall and McCubbin. He held his first exhibition of stoneware in Melbourne in 1912 and a second exhibition soon afterwards, and was employed by Hans Fyansch of the Australian Porcelain Works, Yarraville. On 12 October 1915 he married Doris Lucy Eleanor Bloomfield Gough, a fellow student and potter. In May 1917 he joined the Australian Flying Corps but was discharged later in England. Before his return to Australia in September 1919 he undertook training in pottery technique at Wedgwood's, Stoke-on-Trent.

Merric produced his best works in the 1920s and 1930s. These were mostly pieces for domestic use, often decorated by Doris, and some pottery sculptures. He believed that 'the first impulse of the maker of hand-pottery is to obtain pleasure in making and decorating an article, and making that pleasure intelligible … the use of our own fauna and flora is of the first importance'. In spite of his aversion to creating art that would sell well, he worked hard to provide for his growing family. In the 1930s he was employed at the Australian Porcelain Co. Pty Ltd, Yarraville, in the manufacture of Cruffel art porcelain; he earned £4 a week. Doris worked there also on a half-time basis.

In his later years Merric became something of a recluse. He had adopted his wife's faith in Christian Science and from the 1930s read little beyond its teachings and the Bible. Subject to epileptic fits, he died at Murrumbeena on 9 September 1959. Doris died on 13 June 1960. They were survived by their five children, all noted artists: Lucy, Arthur, Guy, David and Mary. Merric had considerable influence on younger artists. 682 of his drawings were collected and published by Christopher Tadgell as Merric Boyd Drawings (London, 1975). His portrait by his son-in-law John Perceval is one of several.

Theodore Penleigh was born on 15 August 1890 at Penleigh House, Wiltshire, and was educated at Haileybury College and The Hutchins School, Hobart. He studied at the Melbourne National Gallery School (1905-09) and in his final year exhibited at the Victorian Artists' Society. He arrived in London in 1911 and his 'Springtime' was soon hung at the Royal Academy. He occupied studios at Chelsea, Amersham and St Ives, but for a time made Paris his headquarters. There his studio adjoined that of Phillips Fox who brought him into contact with the French modern school and through whom he met Edith Susan Gerard Anderson; they were married in Paris on 15 October 1912.

After touring France and Italy, the couple returned to Melbourne. In 1913 Boyd held an exhibition and won second prize in the Federal capital site competition; he also won the Wynne Prize for landscape in 1914. In October he exhibited at the Athenaeum Hall paintings of Venice, Paris, Sydney, Tasmania and Victoria, including some of Warrandyte, where he had built The Robins, a charming attic house set in bushland.

In 1915 Boyd joined the Australian Imperial Force, becoming a sergeant in the Electrical and Mechanical Mining Company, but was badly gassed at Ypres and invalided to England. In 1918 in London he published Salvage, for which he wrote a racy text illustrated with twenty vigorous black and white ink-sketches of army scenes. Later that year he returned to Melbourne and in November held an exhibition at the Victorian Artists' Society's gallery. Although he suffered from the effects of gas, he held one-man shows in 1920, 1921 and 1922; his work, both water-colours and oils, sold quickly. In September 1922 he visited England to choose a collection of contemporary European art for a government-sponsored exhibition to Australia.

On 28 November 1923 Penleigh Boyd was killed instantly when the car he was driving to Sydney overturned near Warragul; he was buried in Brighton cemetery. Next March, Decoration Co. auctioned most of his remaining work, including some of his finest paintings, without reserve.

In his short career Penleigh Boyd was recognized as one of Australia's finest landscape painters, with a strong sense of colour controlled by smooth and subtle tones. 'Wattle Blossoms', hung at the Royal Academy in 1923, was much admired. He loved colour, having been influenced early by study of Turner and the example of McCubbin.

His wife Edith Susan (1880-1961), was born on 16 February 1880 in Brisbane, daughter of John Gerard Anderson, head of the Department of Public Instruction, and his wife Edith Sarah, née Wood. She studied at the Slade School, London, and in Paris with Phillips Fox. After her marriage she continued to paint and excelled in drawing. In later years she wrote several dramas, staged by repertory companies, and radio plays for the Australian Broadcasting Commission in which she took part. She died at East Burwood on 31 March 1961, survived by her two sons, of whom Robin Gerard Penleigh (1919-1971) was a distinguished architect and writer. She may be recognized as the beautiful red-haired woman in several of Phillips Fox's paintings; three of his portraits of her are held by the family.

Select Bibliography

  • T. P. Boyd, The Landscapes of Penleigh Boyd (Melb, 1920)
  • K. Hood, Pottery (Melb, 1961)
  • Bernard Smith, Australian Painting 1788-1960 (Melb, 1962)
  • J. Reed, Australian Landscape Painting (Melb, 1965)
  • M. Boyd, Day of My Delight (Melb, 1965)
  • Modern Art News (Melbourne), 1 (1959), no 2
  • Pottery in Australia, 14 (1975), no 2
  • Home, 1 Dec 1921
  • Australian Women's Weekly (Sydney), 26 Apr 1972
  • Herald (Melbourne), 30 Oct 1920, 9 Sept 1959
  • Times (London)
  • 29 Nov 1923
  • Age (Melbourne), 4 Feb 1933, 10 Sept 1959, 3 Apr 1961, 1 Feb 1975
  • P. Nase, Martin Boyd's Langton Novels: An Interpretative Essay (M.A. thesis, Australian National University, 1969)
  • M. Boyd, Boyd-à Beckett Family Tree and Associated Papers (State Library of Victoria)
  • Doulton Insulators Australia Pty Ltd Archives (Yarraville, Victoria)
  • private information.

Citation details

Marjorie J. Tipping, 'Boyd, William Merric (1888–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/boyd-william-merric-5608/text8993, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 1 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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