Throughout his oeuvre Arthur Boyd drew great inspiration from the Australian landscape, developing much of his art in response to particular places. As well as depicting the topographical elements of his environment, Boyd created metaphorical landscapes to locate works that addressed the human condition. Painted when he was seventeen, Landscape with grazing sheep displays Boyd’s awareness of the ‘blue and gold’ pastoral paintings of Arthur Streeton and the painterly approach of van Gogh. Paint has been applied thickly – strokes of blue, grey and white forming the sky and dabs of white and light brown conveying a sense of afternoon light across the paddock. At this early stage Boyd was experimenting with a number of styles and techniques, including the thick application of paint with a palette knife.
Landscape with grazing sheep was painted at Rosebud on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. Boyd had moved to the family cottage at Rosebud in 1936 to live with his grandfather, the painter Arthur Boyd Senior. He stayed at Rosebud for around three years, painting views of the region as well as a number of portraits. The vertical orientation of Landscape with grazing sheep is more typical of a portrait painting, while the division of the composition emphasises the great presence of the Australian sky within the landscape. In this quiet and contemplative scene sheep graze on a stretch of dry, grassy land. A grey sky dominates the image and only the rounded forms of sheep and a bail of hay – signs of pastoral settlement – interrupt the horizon.