With Cupid in mind, we look at two works from QAGOMA’s collection with romance as their underlying subject – at the Gallery we believe that love conquers all barriers – and that is the way it should be.
Arthur Boyd: The lady and the unicorn portfolio
Arthur Boyd’s etchings for The lady and the unicorn (portfolio) 1975 reveal a mastery of arabesque line and fine detail in drawing combined with velvety black aquatint that shifts in tone. Boyd created these powerful, dream-like compositions in a series of inter-related scenes including ‘The unicorn sees the lady’, ‘The unicorn’s love dance. The lady’s acceptance’ and ‘The unicorn in love’.
In the portfolio, the unicorn is shown to be a powerful regenerative force – the unicorn falls in love with the lady and she with him… but eventually betrays him. Sadly, hunted down, the unicorn dies for love. Yet he remains a symbol of undying purity and compassion. Boyd creates something potent in this powerful series of etchings – there is anger and anguish in these works, but also a sense of joy and empathy.
The unicorn sees the lady
The unicorn’s love dance. The lady’s acceptance
Chester Earles: Interior with figures
Interior with figures 1872 is the most notable example of Chester Earles work in an Australian public collection. It’s a fine example of Victorian figurative painting, for which Earles was regularly praised when most artists in Australia were already turning to landscape.
It is a courtship picture, perhaps even a proposal, with an unmarried young woman receiving the advances of an evidently worthy man under the approving gaze of a chaperone – you decide.
At the heart of the picture is a tension between the ostensibly romantic subject, and the prevailing anxiety of the period about successful financial provision for gentlewomen: the Married Women’s Property Act wasn’t passed until 1890. The women in the painting are clearly ladies, with evidence of their accomplishments close at hand in the books and fine stitching with which they occupy themselves – the young lady is holding a piece of tatting or lace, similar to the fine lace adorning her dress and thus advertising her refinements of person and skill. As no pater familias is present in this transaction, the viewer is invited to speculate on the social circumstances surrounding the scene and the importance of its eventual outcome.