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Emma Minnie Boyd,

Art and Opportunity in Marvellous Melbourne

Emma Minnie Boyd 1890_0001.jpg

Andrea Hope,  2020


The period from the mid to late 1800s was a pivotal time for the development of art in Melbourne, which was then known as Marvellous Melbourne.


Until the 'crash' in the 1890s, Melbourne was thriving as a result of the gold rush.  (The population of Victoria at this time was just under one million, with about half that number living in Melbourne.)

The first railways were built in the 1850s and by the 1860s it was possible to travel from Melbourne to Richmond, Brighton, Hawthorn, Bendigo and Ballarat.  As well, the first cable tram was operating along Flinders Street to Richmond by 1885. Within five years, trams were ferrying people between the city and inner suburbs along 65 kilometres of tram tracks[1]. Melbourne had the first telephone exchange in Australia and by 1887 there were approximately 8000 calls a day.


Burke st 1890s
Collins St late 1880s.PNG
Melbourne 1880s.PNG

Burke st 1890s

Collins st 1880s

Melbourne 1880s

Sir Archibald Michie QC, who was Victoria's Attorney General in the early 1870s,  remembered the Melbourne of 1852 as little more than 'a very inferior English town'. Only eight years later, he was astounded by Melbourne's transformation into 'a great city, as comfortable, as elegant, as luxurious as any place'. The gold rush saw Melbourne transform from a muddy frontier town to a solid city of spires and domes[2].


With increasing wealth, the city turned its attention to building cultural and educational institutions.


Melbourne University, which was established in 1853,  began to admit women in 1880 (except in study of Medicine)[3].


The Public Library, now known as the State Library of Victoria, opened in Melbourne in 1859,  and the National Gallery of Victoria opened in the 1860s, with the Government granting it the princely sum of £2000 to purchase art work.


It was housed in the McArthur Gallery within the Library from 1875 and was the first gallery purpose built for paintings.  The Gallery was immediately popular with early attendance figures of over 360,000 in its first year[4].

public library museum and gallery c1888-

Public Library, Museum and Gallery c1880-90

Additions to the Public Library Building

Additions to the Public Library & Portrait Gallery 

Interior of Museum 1873 - University of

Interior of Museum, 1873

The National Gallery Art School, School of Design, accepted its first students in 1867.  In 1870 it

split into two schools which were run as separate institutions, with the School of Design preparing students for the School of Painting within the School of Art.  The School of Design became the Drawing School in 1887[5].


The Great International Exhibition of 1880-1  was held at the Royal Exhibition Building in the Carlton Gardens. The exhibition included everything from works of art, furniture and accessories,  and textiles to raw and manufactured products, agriculture and horticulture[6].

1880 -1 international exhibition.PNG
The Melbourne International Exhibition 1

International Exhibition of 1880-1

Writer, Henry Gyles Turner said, “From that day forward, much of the narrow provincialism of the colonists vanished. The new chum, once the derided butt of the old identities, was no longer rudely stared at, and Collins Street began to take on a cosmopolitan aspect"[7].


The tradition of modern international exhibitions had commenced in 1851, when London hosted two international exhibitions. This set off a hectic timetable with exhibitions held approximately every two years somewhere around the world until 1893[8]


Private galleries and studios also began to appear. In upper Collins Street, from the GPO to Spring Street, there were art dealers, a framing store and Isaac Whitehead’s Gallery.  

Fletchers art gallery collins st melbour

Fletchers St Gallery, Collins St, Melbourne

In 1885, Johnstone O’Shannessy opened his luxuriously furnished photographic salon in Collins Street and in 1888 the purpose-built artists' studio complex, Grosvenor Chambers, which was the first in Australia, opened near the corner of Spring Street.

Tom Roberts created the most elaborate studio here in the aesthetic style, drawing on Asian influences and decor and light wicker work[9].

One-third of all the members of the Victorian Artists’ Society had their studios in this section of Collins Street.

Melbourne's earliest known art society, the Victoria Fine Arts Society, commenced in 1856, aiming to promote the fine arts through lectures and conversaziones, to establish an art school, a permanent national gallery and library, and an Art Union, and to host annual exhibitions of works by local artists.


However, it was only active until 1857. The Victorian Academy of Art  (VAA) which was established in 1870, offered schools for the study of fine arts and hosted annual exhibitions. It amalgamated with the Australian Artists Association (est. 1886) to form the Victorian Artists' Society (VAS) in 1888. (In 1902, women students from the National Gallery School formed  the Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors.)[10]

Victorian Artists Society.PNG

Victorian Artists’ Society

The Carlton School of Design also opened in 1871.


As a result, more opportunities to study art became available, and there was an increasing interest in plein air painting, which contributed to Australia's developing sense of nationalism. The 'Heidleberg' and other artists had greater opportunities to exhibit their work publicly, and wealthy patrons sought to have their portraits painted. Private art teachers travelled to and from Europe and Britain bringing with them new techniques and ideas.


However, entrenched ideas, such as the value of art painted by Australian artists, and in particular women artists, were slower to change. 'High Art' was still attributed to art from Britain and Europe.

It was not until the early 1900s that the trustees at the National Gallery began to purchasing work produced in Australia in any significant numbers. (The first works purchased were 'classical' casts of Graeco-Roman statues, seals, reliefs and other artefacts[11] - which were hardly likely to resonate with their colonial audience.)

Emma Minnie Boyd

Nonetheless, Emma Minnie Boyd  (1858 - 1936) was well placed to emerge as a highly professional and respected artist during this period, even though her achievements, like so many female artists of her time, were not celebrated into the future. Known as Minnie to distinguish her from her mother, also named Emma, she displayed an early talent.


She was a painter in oils and watercolours, a printmaker, sculptor,  children's book illustrator, ceramics painter and she made numerous sketches. One of her earliest works was an oil painting on a gum leaf (which was popular at that time[12]) Bush Scene, The Walk,  Chiltern area of North Eastern Victoria. In the early 1900s she also gave private art lessons.


Emma Minnie Boyd, Bush Scene, The Walk
Emma Minnie Boyd, A Summers Day, Gum Tre

Emma Minnie Boyd, Bush Scene, The Walk  Chiltern area of North Eastern Victoria, 1860s

Emma Minnie Boyd, A Summers Day, Gum Trees in a Paddock, date unknown, Bundanon Trust

Artistically, Minnie may have inherited her skills from her great-uncle Thomas a’Beckett who was an accomplished amateur artist, and her father's cousin Ted a'Beckett, who had trained at the Royal Academy in London and was a professional portrait painter.


Both her mother, Emma, and her grandfather,  Sir William a'Beckett, the first Chief Justice of Victoria, were well known for their appreciation of the arts and they supported Minnie in developing her artistic talents. Emma hoped that 'Minnie would make her mark [as a painter] in her time'[13].


Equally important was her family's wealth, which enabled Minnie to train in drawing and painting both in Australia and overseas, and the opportunity to exhibit, without the need to earn a living or focus on finding a husband.  Her grandfather, John Mills, had arrived in Australia as a convict but after he gained his 'ticket of leave' he became a successful brewer and property owner - and he left Emma very well off when he died when she was only three. The marriage of Emma to William a'Beckett provided the family with both wealth and status.


Education and Tuition

As a result, Emma was able to support her family's endeavours and young Minnie was privileged to be able to attend a school for young ladies, where her lessons included drawing.  

Although there is a perception that young Australian women had few options for eduction outside the home in the 19th Century, according to  writer Majorie Theobold[14]  there were at least 30 female schools in Victoria - aimed at the middle class and wealthy.  (Elizabeth Windschuttle[15]  estimated that between 1806 and 1845 there were at least 77 private ladies academies in New South Wales, most of them in Sydney.)

Theobold says "the female academy phenomenon in the colony of Victoria from 1840 to 1910, based on case studies of thirty female schools, suggests that at midcentury they had certain structural features in common.  By that time the term ladies' college was replacing academy or seminary. The schools were privately owned and run for profit, having no official connection with church or state. They were usually, though not always, run by women, often the wives and daughters of the clergy, of professional men, and of the intelligentsia. Their institutional paradigm was the family, and this extended to their architecture; even buildings that were constructed solely to serve as schools were indistinguishable from the surrounding homes of their clientele". [16]

students at madam pfunds comp.jpg

Students at Madame Pfund's School

She states "the national origins of their proprietors were splendidly diverse—English, Scottish, Irish, German, French, Belgian, and Swiss, though I encountered no women from the United States of America. Despite this diversity of origins, the female schools offered a strikingly uniform curriculum which they advertised simply as: "An English education with the usual accomplishments"[17].


There are reports of Minnie Boyd attending two different schools.  Dr Anne Sanders[18], Curatorial Researcher at the National Portrait Gallery, and Dr Anita Callaway[19] from the University of Sydney, report that she attended Madame Pfund’s school whilst the Boyd biographer, Brenda Niall reported that she attended Madam Vieusseux's school[20].

Madame Pfund's School

In 1867 Swiss-born Madame Elise Pfund (1833–1921) established Oberwyl, a highly regarded private girls’ school in St Kilda. She ran the school until 1885, although it continued to operate until 1931. The school was named after her home village of Oberwyl in Switzerland, and it gained a reputation for its French culture and style.

Oberwyl - Madam Pfund's school.PNG

Oberwyl - Madam Pfund's school

Tom Roberts, Madame Pfund, c1887.PNG

Tom Roberts, Madame Pfund, c1887

Oberwyl provided classes from kindergarten to senior secondary levels and attracted both day girls and borders. Classes were offered in arithmetic, reading, writing, spelling, elocution, history, geography, mapping, scripture, nature study, music, singing, drama, dancing, drawing, needlework, physical culture and tennis.  Charitable work was an important part of the curriculum[21].


Together with her husband James, architect and Victorian Surveyor-General, Elise Pfund was one of the important patrons of Heidleberg artists such Tom Roberts, who painted portraits of both Elise and her husband.

Madame Vieusseux's School

Brenda Niall wrote in her book, The Boyds, that Minnie had lessons at Madam Vieusseux's school, where the 'elegant, cultured and cosmopolitan' principal set high standards in the teaching of art and French[22]. Marjorie Theobold states that the a'Beckett family were referees for the school when it began its formal existence in 1857[23], so it is likely that Boyd had some relationship with the school.


Madame Julie Vieusseux arrived in Australia in 1852 with her husband Lewis and their two small sons. They were among the thousands who migrated to Melbourne during the gold rush period.

Vieusseux was born Julie Matthieu in Holland in 1820, but regarded herself as a native of French Flanders. She had been educated in Paris and was sufficiently proficient in portraiture to earn a living in the first precarious months in Melbourne.  Within a year she advertised “Drawing and Painting Classes for Young Ladies, who can enjoy the advantage of French conversation[24].   

Julie and Lewis Vieusseux.PNG

Julie and Lewis Vieusseux

She also began exhibiting her paintings.  At the third Victorian Industrial Society Exhibition held in December 1852, Vieusseux received the highest possible awards. Her study of a girl 'French School’ and her copy of the Virgin Mary after Raphael were together awarded a gold medal, and her oil painting of a minstrel 'German school'  which was reported by the judges 'as a performance of very great merit'  received another. In April 1853 she advertised an exhibition of her paintings at the Melbourne Mechanics Institute, informing the public that her "'much admired collection of Oil Paintings' could be viewed there daily before their dispersal through an art union to be drawn on 7 May"[25]. Two of her chalk drawings of female heads were also shown at the 1866 Melbourne Inter-colonial Exhibition. (Unfortunately few of her paintings are still in existence, so it is difficult to see her direct artistic influence on the young a'Beckett.)

In 1857, Vieusseux founded the Vieusseux Ladies’ College. Her school swiftly became a highly fashionable establishment, where the upper classes enrolled their daughters. In 1863, the school had 103 students, an unusually high number for an Australian school for girls.


The school had high academic standards. Discipline was strict, even severe. Both Vieusseux taught full-time in the school, taking the language and literature classes in English, French and German. Julie also taught drawing, painting and craft classes.

 (The Vieusseux’s second son, Stephen, died in November 1852 and in 1858 their eldest son, Lewis, aged eight, was lost in the bush. After all hopes of finding him alive had vanished, Julie painted his portrait using her sole living child, Edward, as a model.)

Louis Buvelot

Around the late 1870s or early 1880s Minnie received private lessons from a leading artist in Melbourne, Louis Buvelot. 

J. C. Waite, Abram Louis Buvelot (inset)

J. C. Waite, Abram Louis Buvelot, (inset) 1894

Buvelot was born in Switzerland and settled in Melbourne in 1865 at the age of 51, with his wife Caroline-Julie Beguin. Little is known of his early training in Switzerland or in Paris, although it is thought that he may have had drawings lessons in Lausanne in Switzerland and then lessons with the French painter Camille Flers, where he may also have known other pre-Impressionist realists. By 1840 when he was living in Rio de Janeiro, he registered  his profession as 'artist' and he was successfully exhibiting landscapes from this time[26].


After first earning a living in Melbourne as a photographer the year they arrived, Buvelot was able to concentrate on his painting, whilst Beguin, also an artist, supported them by teaching French.


Bouvelot preferred to paint directly from nature or plein air,  rather than painting exclusively in the studio from sketches.   His work is likened to the French Barbizon school and is considered to be the beginning of Realism in Australia. He is known for his ability to "compose with breadth and dignity while recording much detail, and for the lyrical quality which imbues the realism of these scenes of rural tranquillity".[27]

Louis Buvelot, Winter morning near Heide

Louis Buvelot, Winter morning near Heidelberg

Louis Buvelot, Waterpool near Coleraine

Louis Buvelot, Waterpool near Coleraine (sunset), 1869.

He worked in oils, watercolour, sepia, pencil and charcoal and retained a more conventional approach to painting, developing harmonious and peaceful compositions with clear brushstrokes.  His work doesn’t reference Impressionism, which was then emerging in France.


However, by the late 1860s Buvelot had adapted his technique to suit the Australian landscape, changing his palette and formal manner into a looser style.


Buvelot contributed landscape paintings to various international, inter-colonial and Victorian exhibitions from 1866 until 1882.  These was always well received and by 1869 his reputation in Melbourne as the colony's leading landscape artist was established[28].


By 1869 Buvelot's paintings Winter morning near Heidelberg and Summer afternoon, Templestowe had been purchased by the Board of Trustees of the Public Library, as part of the beginnings of an Australian Collection for the National Gallery. A year later the Trustees added his Waterpool near Coleraine (sunset) to this collection.


At this time Buvelot was teaching landscape drawing at the Carlton Artisans' School of Design where he had a significant influence on the founders of the Heidelberg School.


Louis Buvelot, At Lilydale, 1870.PNG
Louis Buvelot, Pastoral Scene, 1878.PNG

Louis Buvelot, Waterpool near Coleraine (sunset), 1869.

Louis Buvelot, Pastoral Scene, 1878

Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin acknowledged him as the father of Australian landscape painting[29].  McCubbin wrote: 'There was no one before him to point out the way; he possessed, therefore, in himself, the genius to catch and understand the salient living features of the country. I remember as if it were yesterday, standing one evening a long time ago, watching the sunset glowing in the trees in Studley Park, and it was largely through Buvelot that I realized the beauty of the scene'[30].


In 1868 he had applied for the role of instructor, without fees, of art classes at the National Gallery School of Victoria, but despite letters from the students requesting his appointment, the position, with salary, was finally given in 1870 to von Guérard [31].  This also may have been due to the fact that his English was very poor. However, he served on the committee of the Victorian Academy of Arts in 1870-74 and also exhibited with this group.


Minnie was therefore fortunate to have lessons with Buvelot, particularly as her greatest painting strengths included landscapes, and his influence can be seen in her work.  

National Gallery School

In 1876, 1877, 1879 and 1882[32]  Minnie attended the National Gallery School, which had only opened in 1867.

The Gallery School remained perhaps Australia's most prestigious art education school, until its importance waned with the acceptance of Modernism in the 1930s. Tuition at the school varied over the years, according to the interests of different teachers. Generally, however, classes followed the model of the European art academies. Students commenced their studies in the School of Design where they learnt the fundamentals of drawing, including outline drawing and tonal modelling of form. In the process they progressed from drawing plaster casts of antique sculptures to drawing from the human figure. 

national school of art.PNG

Students at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School, 1895

The School of Painting taught traditional painting skills. These included compositional skills and the academic technique of building up a painting in many layers, starting with thin paint and dark tones, and finishing with thicker paint and lighter tones on the surface[33].


Artists who were studying there during that period included Emanuel Phillips Fox, Rupert Bunny, Frederick McCubbin, Tom Roberts, May Vale, Jane Sutherland, Clara Southern, Josephine Muntz Adams and Arthur Merric Boyd,  who was to become Minnie's husband in 1886.


Eugène von Guérard 1811- 1901

Eugene Von Geurard photo.PNG

Eugène von Guérard tutored Minnie in painting in 1876 and 1879.  He had been appointed master of the National Gallery of Victoria School of Art (painting) and inaugural curator of its collection in 1870.

Born in Vienna and trained in the German Romantic tradition, which suggested the presence of divine powers in nature, he was one of a number of artists who came to Australia attracted by the discovery of gold.


He arrived in Australia in 1852 and spent about two years prospecting near Ballarat before moving to Melbourne, where he established himself as an artist. He gained a reputation for his landscapes and homestead portraits, and also for his wilderness subjects of waterfalls and mountains[34].


Eugène von Guérard, Spring in the Valley of the Mitta Mitta with the Bogong Ranges, 1866

With Melbourne as a base, von Guérard frequently travelled through Victoria in search of awe-inspiring scenes to paint. He also made trips to Tasmania in 1856 and 1875, South Australia in 1855 and New South Wales in 1859 and he visited New Zealand in 1876.  Von Guérard’s fascination with the natural world was also informed by science discoveries at that time.  His travels also resulted in lucrative commissions from wealthy country landowners for paintings of their homesteads.

Eugene Von Guerard, Warrenheip Hills nea

Eugene Von Guerard, Warrenheip Hills near Ballarat, 1854


Eugène von Guérard, Bush fire between Mount Elephant and Timboon, 1857

Although he was criticised for his outmoded techniques as a teacher, which restricted students to copying artworks in the gallery’s collection,[35] Minnie Boyd must have seen value in his style as she was under his tutelage for two years. She was also tutored by George Folingsby in painting and Oswald Rose Campbell in drawing whilst at the Gallery School.



Minnie had a solid grounding in the fundamentals in drawing, combined with skills in both the mediums of oil and watercolour.  Like many artists of the time, Minnie had kept a sketchbook from the mid 1870s and her first sketchbook, from 1874-1878, contains over 50 small and detailed drawings primarily relating to her home, the surrounding district and her family, friends and pets.

Emma Minnie Boyd, Sketechbook 5.JPG
Emma Minnie Boyd, Sketchbook 1a.JPG

She began exhibiting publicly as an amateur, at the age of 15, at the fourth VAA exhibition in 1874, with An Afternoon Nap, a watercolour of her mother asleep on a chaise lounge on their drawing room.  In the same year she painted a watercolour of her home, The Grange.

Emma Minnie Boyd, An Afternoon Nap,  187
Emma Minnie Boyd, The Grange, Berwick, 1

Emma Minnie Boyd, An Afternoon Nap,  1874

Emma Minnie Boyd, The Grange, Berwick, 1874

In 1875 she exhibited five (untraced) watercolours, and one of her better known works was also painted that year -  an interior watercolour Interior with Figures, The Grange, 1875  (which unfortunately was not displayed publicly during her lifetime).

Emma Minnie Boyd, Interior with figures, The Grange, 1875

Emma Minnie Boyd, Interior with figures,

Interior genre scenes were typical of her work at the time - depicting family and friends. These paintings of a leisurely lifestyle were often set against a backdrop of a window or door, inviting the viewer to become part of the scene. Even these early works demonstrate not only her painting and composition abilities, but also her understanding of light and shadow.


She also painted a series of botanic and still life works.

Emma Minnie Boyd, Sketch.PNG

Emma Minnie Boyd, Sketch

Emma Minnie Boyd, Pink Blossoms.PNG

Emma Minnie Boyd, Pink Blossoms,

date unknown

Emma Minnie Boyd, Pink Blossoms.PNG

Emma Minnie Boyd, Wildflowers, c1885

Although as a young single woman she didn't travel in the same way as the male Heidelberg painters, many of whom she knew, she painted many landscapes during her career, initially around her country home in the hills of Parkaway, east of Melbourne, and then later on holiday in Tasmania, overseas in Britain and Europe and then again around the outskirts of Melbourne from the 1890s.

Emma Minnie Boyd, River with Fisherman a

Emma Minnie Boyd, River with Fisherman and Birds, 1880, Bundanon Trust

Emma Minnie Boyd, View from the Grange,

Emma Minnie Boyd, View from the Grange, 1875, NGV

Stylistically, Minnie's landscapes are reminiscent of Louis Buvelot and Realism, although some of her works show a greater fluidity and looseness, for example, A Bush Camp, c. 1870s, and later works painted when she travelled overseas, for example, In Lucerne, 1893 (see below). The colours of her landscapes are also more reflective of the Australian bush.


By 1877 her status had changed from amateur to professional and in the following year three of her six oils and watercolours were exhibited with prices ranging from £6/6/0 for a watercolour drawing to £7/7/0 for the oil paintings and in 1879 her watercolour, Reaping, (untraced) was priced at £12/12/0, the highest price she had sought for a watercolour at an Academy exhibition and one of the highest prices of all the watercolours at that exhibition [36].  (By 1889 the asking price for her oil painting, The Letter, at £32 was comparable with the prices being asked for by Frederick McCubbin and Arthur Streeton at the same exhibition, given the size of her work which was only 60 x 40 cm.[37])

She also exhibited at Buxton's Art Gallery on several occasions, the same gallery where the  famous 9 x 5 Impressionist exhibition was held in 1887. (Interestingly, in his paper, Arabesques of Beauty: Cullis Hill,  the 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition, decorative decor and painting[38], Andrew Montana uses Minnie's painting, Corner of a Drawing-Room, 1887, to demonstrate the ambience that the artists were aiming to achieve for the exhibition.) Minnie herself was not interested in contributing to this exhibition, as her style was not Impressionistic, although she would have known the artists who had studied at the Gallery School whilst she was enrolled.

Minnie also contributed to the Victorian Jubilee Exhibition in 1884 and the Melbourne Centennial International Exhibition of 1888-89. 


Buxtons Gallery melbourne.PNG
Melbourne Centennial Exhibition 1888.PNG

Melbourne Centennial Exhibition, 1888

grafton galleries.PNG

Buxtons Gallery, Melbourne

Grafton Galleries, exhibition entrance

She also sent two painting to English exhibitions - the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, London in 1886 and the Exhibition of Australian Art, London, in 1898.


The artists contributing to the Exhibition of Australian Art, including both Emma and her husband Arthur Boyd (whom she'd married in 1886), reads like a 'who's who' of leading Australian male and female painters of the time[39].  The exhibition, which ran for four months,  was organised by the Art Gallery of NSW and according to Petrit Abazi remains "the most ambitious projects of its kind realised outside of Australia"[40]. Emma entered two paintings of the 371, Old Farmyard, and Low Tide Brighton, Victoria. (The drawings and watercolours of the women artists, especially their Australian floral subjects, comprised half of the sales[41] and the number of women artists represented one third of the artists.)

The Block in Collins St 1890s.PNG

By the late 1880s she and Arthur were also working from a studio in Collins Street.

'The Block' in Collins St 1890s

Children's Book Illustrations

Minnie and Arthur spent a number of their holidays in Tasmania, where she also exhibited her paintings, and it is possible that she met children's author and illustrator Louisa Anne Meredith there around 1889-89. Minnie was invited to prepare a number of illustrations for Meredith's book, Waratah Rhymes.

Waratah Rhymes.PNG
Waratah Rhymes  Minnie Boyd 9.PNG

Emma Minnie Boyd, Waratah Rhymes, Book Illustration 

Waratah Rhymes  Minnie Boyd 4.PNG

Emma Minnie Boyd, Waratah Rhymes, Book Illustration 

She also painted three watercolours for the story The Light on Goat Island written by Mary Gaunt and published in Childhood in bud and blossom : a souvenir book of the Children's Hospital bazaar in 1900[42].


In 1890 Minnie and Arthur travelled to Britain and Europe, arriving firstly at Brindisi near the southern tip of Italy. They made their way to England sketching and painting until finally making their base at the family home of Penleigh House in Wiltshire (about a three hours train trip to London) where her parents were already living.


In preparing work for an exhibition for the Royal Academy in London in 1891, where she hoped to establish herself as an artist of note, Minnie was carefully studying life in England, and work by such artists as J M W Turner (whose work she considered over-rated[43]).

The work accepted by the Academy was To the Workhouse, 1891. Minnie had made at least two trips to the workhouse as well undertaking parish work, singing in the choir, visiting 'poor people' and giving money to the needy in Wiltshire.  (This painting wasn't her first demonstration of her interest in painting the underprivileged[44]. In 1887 she had painted a watercolour, Ere Cares Begin, (untraced) which had depicted two little boys in rags making their home in a large dilapidated tank.)


Minnie's mother Emma purchased To the Workhouse, and gifted it to the National Gallery of Victoria, which currently holds five of her paintings.

Emma Minnie Boyd, To the Workhouse, 1891

Emma Minnie Boyd,

 To the Workhouse, 1891, NGV

She produced at least one etching while in Britain, Hiker leaving Hillside Village, in 1892.


Emma Minnie Boyd, Hiker Leaving Hillside Village, etching, 1892

Emma Minnie Boyd, Girl with Parrot, c189

Emma Minnie Boyd, Girl with Parrot, c1891, Bundanon Trust

At the same time Minnie was learning to paint small works in black and white from Henry Blackburn, the editor of London Society, who had a strong reputation for the quality of his illustrations. However, from about this time, the majority of her paintings were watercolours, which may have been because they were quick and easy to execute during the period when she had a growing family.


In 1892 she also had paintings included in an exhibition in Bristol before leaving France for Italy in 1893 and then Lucerne in Switzerland (where their fourth child, Martin, was born).


According to William Moore, writing in the Brisbane Courier in 1931, Emma also studied at studied at Académie Colarossi, in Paris[45]. Founded by the Italian sculptor Filippo Colarossi, the  art school was established in 1870 as an alternative to the official Ecole des Beaux. The School admitted female students to its courses and allowed them to draw from the nude male model. A number of female artists from all over the world attended with a high degree of success[46]. However, given their movements, she must have only spent a short time at the art school.


Niall argues that because of her isolation in Wiltshire in England, and reliance on the Royal Academy to make her mark, Minnie didn't become part of London artistic circle, and therefore her style of art didn't change noticeably during this period. (She and Arthur did have contact with some Australian artists including Arthur Streeton and Charles Condor.) Rather, Niall states that the biggest impact on Minnie was 'to awaken Minnie's social conscience, and to make her uneasy with any kind of social pretension'[47].

Return to Melbourne

The land crash of 1893 in Melbourne meant that her parents income was halved[48],  and the family chose to return to Australia, with Minnie and Arthur arriving in 1894.


The end of "Marvellous" Melbourne spelt the end of a leisurely lifestyle, but nonetheless both Minnie and Arthur were able to continue as artists, assisted by her mother who was still able to provide financial support. 

Emma Minnie Boyd,  Down the Creek, 1912.

Emma Minnie Boyd,  Down the Creek, 1912

Emma Minnie Boyd, The Farm at Yarra Glen

Emma Minnie Boyd, The Farm at Yarra Glen, 1908

To supplement their income, Minnie taught art to students in her city studio in the Cromwell buildings (owned by her mother), whilst also continuing to exhibit to the Victorian Artists Society - displaying a number of paintings from the travel abroad.


In 1902  Minnie and Arthur held a joint exhibition at the grand home of Como in Toorak, owned by their friends Caroline and Charles Armytage - where they were lauded as being 'amongst the best of Australian artists'[49]. They sold over £100 of paintings and were offered a number of commissions. At that time it was most unusual for artists to hold independent exhibitions, most artists exhibited more formally in groups.


The Boyds lived in Brighton when they first returned from overseas,  and then Sandringham from 1898. During this period Minnie travelled to Gembrook, Bunyip, Mornington, Healesville and Heidelberg to paint rural scenes of rivers bridges sunsets and farm ruins. 

The family also travelled to Tasmania on several occasions in the early 1900s, letting out their house in Sandringham to save money. Alexander notes that it may have been in Tasmania that she painted The Cobbler, 1902 which one critic described as the 'high-watermark of … [her] art'[50].

Emma Minnie Boyd, The Cobbler, 1902

Emma Minnie Boyd, The Cobbler, 1902.PNG

The Boyds later purchased a farm at Yarra Glen, in 1908, with the inheritance Minnie received following Emma's death in 1906.


Minnie's first Yarra Glen landscapes soon appeared in the Victorian Artists Society exhibitions - her Backwater of the Yarra in 1908 was followed by The Sun's Healing Rays in 1909 and River Wreathed in Gold in 1910.


Her work was represented in these exhibitions every year from 1906 to 1916, with many of the paintings being of the river and its surrounds. Mostly they were small watercolours which were moderately priced at around the four or five guinea mark.

Emma Minnie Boyd,  River Landscape, 1926

Emma Minnie Boyd,  River Landscape, 1926


Emma Minnie Boyd, Port Phillip Bay

The family spent another period living in Brighton, before moving to a property at Murrumbeena in 1919 and then back to Sandringham in 1922.


Paintings in her later years also included fewer figures - they were mainly landscapes, at which she was particularly adept.  She was also fortunate to live rurally and close to the sea, enabling her to easily find subjects for her paintings.

The impact of religion on Minnie's life and work

Minnie's religious beliefs became a central part of her life and these became more intense after the death of her on Gilbert as the result of an accident at the age of 10 in 1896 - not long after they had returned from Europe. A second son, Penleigh also died from an accident at the age of 33 in 1923. (She had three other children, Merric, Martin and Helen, all also well known as part of the Boyd 'dynasty'.) Life became more austere after Gilbert's death. It may also have been that there was some sense of guilt about living a lavish lifestyle after the financial crash of the 90s effected so many lives in Melbourne, and she had experienced how the poor lived during their stay at Wiltshire.

Minnie had become particularly socially minded and active in helping the poor, including devoting both part of her income and energies to helping the less fortunate[51]. She taught Sunday school and routinely shared bible stories, myths, legends and fairy tales with her family[52] and from about the time of Gilbert's death discouraged what she saw as frivolities, such as going to the theatre. However, she didn't tend to scold or punish her children, rather she had an emphasis on positive virtue and impressed on them 'If there be any beauty, if there if any praise, think on these things'[53].  Niall suggests that from about this time she also became less concerned about her appearance[54] (note her style of dress in her 1912 self portrait).


 After living a lavish lifestyle in her youth, she later chose to value simplicity, developing a commitment to 'absolute virtue' and 'absolute truthfulness'[55]

Beauty and simplicity are more reflected in her oeuvre than her religious beliefs, with only a few of her paintings, such as The Prayer, 1895 having religous subject matter. Almost all her other works are depictions of an idyllic rural life.

Emma Minnie Boyd, The Prayer, 1895, Bund

Emma Minnie Boyd, The Prayer, 1895, Bundanon Trust.

Some observations about the Emma Minnie Boyd's art

Minnie Boyd worked as a professional artist, who clearly not only took every opportunity to develop her skills through formal studies and tutelage, but also to test her abilities in a range of styles and media - although she is best known for her watercolours. Not an easy medium to excel in, it can be worked with quickly, unlike oil painting, and this may have been important to her at the time when she became a parent.


She displayed an early talent, exhibiting her first painting in 1874, with her last entry in an exhibition in 1932 -  just 4 years before her death.


Minnie's subject matter included domestic scenes, portraiture, still life, buildings and landscapes. Early in her career her focus was genre painting (painting of scenes from everyday life)  with landscapes being favoured particularly after her return from Europe in the 1990s.  Some earlier paintings also have some narrative, but her later works are more picturesque - views of the rivers, sea and rural areas in the areas where she lived.

There is also a least one earlier work of her sister, Emily, Young Woman and Blossom, painted in 1879 which has a aesthetic feel. The Aesthetic movement which was popular in the 1870s and 1880s in Britain focused on pure beauty and ‘art for art’s sake’ - emphasising the visual and sensual qualities of art. The movement was becoming known in Australia through literary sources such as Punch

Emma Minnie Boyd, Young Woman and Blosso

Exhibiting and selling her work was important to her, and in the early 1890s her mother wrote, "Minnie [is] doing some trees, she likes doing them and Arthur says they sell better than other pictures"[56].


Minnie had a strong sense of  composition - her paintings lead you in and around a scene, with a number of interesting points to hold your attention. Her genre paintings have attracted a great deal of interest because of their detail, for example, Corner of a Drawing Room, 1887 (below left). The curved archway, painted in an off-white, with the light shining through, leads you into an intimate space where you feel the family could re-gather at any time. It looks homely, domestic and also appealing, particularly with the drawn curtains that invite you outside. The touches in the scene, chairs, footstools, cushions, ceiling and wall motifs, flowers and artefacts, all give you a sense of time and place in Melbourne. It’s a very restful, well executed oil painting.

Emma Minnie Boyd, Corner of a Drawing Ro

Emma Minnie Boyd, Corner of a Drawing Room. 1887, NGV

Emma Minnie Boyd, Afternoon Tea, 1888, B

Emma Minnie Boyd, Afternoon Tea, 1888, Bendigo Art Gallery 

Emma Minnie Boyd, Corner of a Dining room

Afternoon Tea, painted a year later in 1888, is a painting of two women in another domestic setting. This painting has also made good use of the light flowing through the window, although there is less detail in this work.


The figures in the painting appear to be posed in quiet contemplation and there is no indication of imminent movement. (Unlike Minnie's own busy life I find these women suggest the enforced idleness of many middle and upper class women of the time.)


Yet some of Minnie's portraits are show a greater sense of character, including a self portrait painted in 1912.

Emma Minnie Boyd, Young Girl, 1880.PNG

Emma Minnie Boyd, Young Girl, 1880

Emma Minnie Boyd, Self Portrait,

Emma Minnie Boyd, Self Portrait, 1912

Although I haven't found many examples of her still life and botanical pictures, they are well executed. For example, her flower studies from the 1870s and Flowerpiece (date unknown but after 1886).

Emma Minnie Boyd,  Flower Study,
Emma Minnie Boyd, Flower Study (c. 1870s
Emma Minnie Boyd, Flowerpiece.jpg

Emma Minnie Boyd, Flowerpiece

The first study appears to be painted in 1873 (the date is a bit unclear) when Minnie would have been just 15, the second shows and increasing confidence and skill.  Flowerpiece clearly shows a strong development in her work - very carefully composed in an Impressionist style - it’s a very arresting and peaceful work. It's made more appealing by the simple addition of the book and glasses to the left, and the added touches of the scattered light red flowers - just enough to lift and brighten the work.


Like many professional artists, Minnie was highly proficient in drawing, having kept sketchbooks since she was a teenager, drawing botanical works and later contributing illustrations for at least one children's book.

Emma Minnie Boyd Bushland with Pond, dra

Emma Minnie Boyd, Bushland with Pond, drawing, c1876

Waratah Rhymes  Minnie Boyd 4aa.png

Emma Minnie Boyd, Illustration for Waratah Rhymes

Four of her works that I am particularly drawn to are A Bush Camp, c1870s, Doris Boyd sketching on the Yarra River, 1914, Fallen Tree (date unknown) and In Lucerne, 1893.


These four works span a 40 year period of her career, the first in oil and the others in watercolour.

Emma Minnie Boyd, A Bush Camp (c. 1870s)

Emma Minnie Boyd, A Bush Camp (c. 1870s)

Emma Minnie Boyd A Bush Camp

Bush Camp was painted during the 1870s, when Minnie was probably still in her teens. It has quite an Impressionistic style, at the time when Impressionism was reaching its peak in Europe. The brushstrokes are quite broad and flat,  with wonderful light coming into the picture, and the shadows are painted in deep mauve, not black or grey.

It has a slight  'Heidelberg' quality about it because of its subject, although it was painted the decade before Tom Roberts painted An Artists Camp in 1886. (In Roberts' painting I think that the pose of the sitting figure isn't quite right - it looks awkward.)

Tom Roberts, The Artists' Camp, 1887

Tom Roberts, The Artists' Camp, 1887.PNG
Emma Minnie Boyd, Doris Boyd sketching o

Emma Minnie Boyd, Doris Boyd sketching on the Yarra River, 1914

The second painting, Doris Boyd sketching on the Yarra River, was painted in 1914 when Minnie was living at Yarra Glen with her family. Doris, her daughter in law, was also an artist. I find this pose more natural than some of her earlier figures, and the light colour of her dress takes you right into the picture, taking in all the painter's equipment. The boot protruding from the skirt, painted in a similar colour to the hat, make the picture complete. It's an idyllic painting of a person sitting in the sunshine absorbed in what they are doing.

Emma Minnie Boyd, Fallen Tree.jpg

Emma Minnie Boyd, Fallen Tree

Fallen Tree [57] is a typical Australian rural painting for its era - immediately recognisable and comfortable for any-one who had lived in similar countryside. It's a well composed painting, taken from a low vantage point, looking up to the majestic gum trees, the homestead with its chimney smoke and the mountains in the distance. There is a lovely device of the slightly darker and flatter grass that leads, like a meandering path, from the bottom right through to what could be a creek, then towards the centre and slightly left towards the house. The clouds are suggestive of rain that may have just moved through, with the sun now re-emerging. Overall, it's very picturesque, and Minnie painted many other landscapes with the same careful composition which places us squarely in an Australian setting.

Emma Minnie Boyd, In Lucerne, 1893,.jpg

I really enjoy the modern-ness of Minnie's painting, In Lucerne, painted in Switzerland in 1893 shortly before she returned to Australia. The simple wash, with a limited palette, but a splash of red on the stall, gives it a simplicity which works with the subject matter.  You can see how again Minnie is using the winding street to lead us from the front bottom left through to the centre of the picture, and the vertical proportions appear to be equal to the 'golden ratio'.

Emma Minnie Boyd, In Lucerne, 1893,

Emma Minnie Boyd In Lucerne


Emma Minnie Boyd was one of the few women who was able to combine her profession as an artist with marriage and a family, while at the same time holding a strong religious ethic and devotion to charitable works.


She was able to achieve this, not only as a result of her talent and commitment,  but also because she was born into a family with a strong interest in art who could afford to support not only her herself and her family during her lifetime.  Her husband, Arthur Merric Boyd, also an artist, put no obstacles in her way and they painted and exhibited together. For most of her married life, she also had some assistance in caring for her children and maintaining her home (although she was certainly active in these activities).


She was fortunate to be born at the time that Melbourne was expanding rapidly, where she had access to private education, tuition at the Gallery School and the ability to regularly show her work at numerous exhibitions, initially as an amateur and then professionally, both in Australia and Britain. She was also fortunate to be painting at a time of growing nationalism, with other well known artists from the 'golden' period of plein air painting.


A prodigious artist, she entered her work in many exhibitions and received numerous art awards, sold her paintings profitably and her work has been acquired by a number of state and regional galleries as well as the National Gallery of Australia.


[1] Museums Victoria, Marvellous Melbourne,

[2] Museums Victoria, Marvellous Melbourne

[3] Melbourne International Exhibition 1880, p48

[4] Lisanne Gibson, The uses of art, University of Queensland Press ,St Lucia, Qld, 2001, p32

[5] Lucy Frances Kerley,  National Gallery Art School, The university of Melbourne archives,

[6] Melbourne International Exhibition 1880, Official catalogue of the Exhibition, Volume One

[7] Dr Anne Sanders, Less than Six Degrees of Separation, Lecture, 28 May 2011, National Portrait Gallery, Australia

[8] Louise Douglas, Representing colonial Australia at British, American and European international exhibitions, The National Museum of Australia's journal reCollections (March 2008, Vol 3 No 1).

[9]  Dr Anne Sanders 

[10] Paul Paffen, Art Society and Clubs, eMelbourne the City past and present, University of Melbourne

[11]  Ann Galbally, The collections of the National Gallery of Victoria, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1987

[12] National Library of Australia, Picturing Australia, 2009, p70

[13]  Brenda Niall, Life class: biographer of the Boyds, Brenda Niall considers the role of the Victorian Gallery School in their careers. (Essay). Meanjin, June 2003, p. 120+

[14] Marjorie Theobald, Boundaries, Bridges, and the History of Education: An Australian Response to Maxine Schwartz Seller. History of Education Quarterly, vol. 33, no. 4, 1993, pp. 497–510, p 502

[15]Elizabeth Windschurtle, Educating the Daughters of the Ruling Class in Colonial New South Wales. 1788-1850, in Melbourne Studies in Education 1980, ed. S. Murray-Smith (Melbourne. 1980), 105-33

[16] Gerald W. Noble, Secondary Education in Van Diemen's Land, 1820-1857, iM.Ed. diss. University of Melbourne 1972.

[17] Marjorie Theobald, Boundaries, Bridges, and the History of p 502

[18] Anita Callaway, Emma Minnie Boyd, Design & Art Australia Online,, 1995

[19] Dr Anne Sanders,

[20] Brenda Niall, The Boyds, Melbourne University Press, 2002, p57

[21] Edel Wignall, Christina's Matilda, Interactive Publications, 2011

[22] Brenda Niall, The Boyds, p57

[23] Marjorie Theobold, Knowing Women: Origins of Women's Education in Nineteenth-century Australia, Cambridge University Press, 1966, p45

[24] Marjorie Theobald, Boundaries, Bridges, and the History of Education, p 504

[25] Design and Art Australia Online, Julie Elizabeth Agnes Vieusseux, Staff Writer, 2011

[26] Jocelyn Gray, Buvelot, Abram-Louis (1814–1888), Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,

[27] Ella Fry, Gallery Images, St George Books, Perth, 1984

[28] Jocelyn Gray, 'Buvelot, Abram-Louis

[29] Ella Fry, Gallery Images, St George Books, Perth, 1984

[30] William Moore, The Art of Frederick McCubbin, Melbourne, 1916, quoted in The Story of Australian Art, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1934

[31] Jocelyn Gray, 'Buvelot, Abram-Louis'

[32] Jane Alexander, Emma Minnie Boyd 1858 -  1936, Morning Peninsula Regional Gallery, exhibition curator,  c2004, p8.

[33]National Gallery of Victoria, Australian Impressionism,

[34] National Gallery of Australia, Eugene von Guerard: 'Purrumbete from across the lake, 1858', ABC Education


[36] Jane Alexander,  p9.

[i37] Jane Alexander, p17

[38] Andrew Montana, Arabesques of Beauty: Cullis Hill,  the 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition, decorative decor and painting, State Library of Victoria,

[39] Exhibition of Australian art in London : Grafton Galleries, Grafton Street, London, W., 2nd April to 7th May, 189, National Library of Australia

[40] Petrit Abazi, The Exhibition and Reception of Australian Art in London in the Nineteenth Century, Thesis, University of Melbourne, 2014, p31

[41] Petrit Abazi, p54

[42]Jane  Alexander, p 20

[43] Jane Alexander, p17

[44] Jane Alexander, p15

[45] William Moore, Art and Artists, The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933) Saturday 9 May, 1931, p 18 Article

[46] Academie Colarossi,

[47] Brenda Niall, The Boyds, p98-99

[48] Martin Boyd, A Single Flame, Dent & Sons Limited, 1939, p6.

[49] Jane Alexander, p21

[50] Jane Alexander, p21

[51] Victoria Hammond and Juliet Peers, Completing the Picture: Women Artists and the Heidelberg Era, Artmoves, Hawthorn East, 1992, p40

[52] The Bundanon Trust, The Boyd Family,

[53] Brenda Nial, The Boyds, from E.M. Boyd, The Other Side of the River, in Poems and Stories for Children, 1934

[54] Brenda Niall, The Boyds, p117

[55]Brenda Niall, The Boyds, p134-135

[56] Brenda Niall, The Boyds, p103.

[57] I'm not sure if this is the correct title, but this how it is listed for sale


Abazi, Petrit; The Exhibition and Reception of Australian Art in London in the Nineteenth Century, Thesis, University of Melbourne, 2014

Ambrus, Caroline; Australian Women Artists, First Fleet to 1945, History, Hearsay and Her Say, Irrepressible Press, Canberra 1992

Alexander, Jane; Emma Minnie Boyd 1858 -  1936, Morning Peninsula Regional Gallery, c2004

Boyd, Martin; A Single Flame, Dent & Sons Limited, 1939

Bundanon Trust

Cox, Leonard; The National Gallery of Victoria 1861 - 1968, National Gallery of Victoria, 1970?

Callaway, Anita; Minnie Boyd, Design & Art Australia Online,, 1995

Douglas, Louise; Representing colonial Australia at British, American and European international exhibitions, The National Museum of Australia's journal recollections, March 2008, Vol 3 No 1

Design and Art Australia Online, Julie Elizabeth Agnes Vieusseux, Staff Writer, 2011

Exhibition of Australian art in London : Grafton Galleries, Catalogue,  Grafton Street, London, W., 2nd April to 7th May, 189, National Library of Australia

De Vries, Susanna; Strength of Purpose : Australian Women of Achievement from Federation to the Mid-20th Century, HarperCollins, Pymble, NSW, 1998.

Fry, Ella;  Gallery Images, St George Books, Perth, 1984

Galbally, Ann; The collections of the National Gallery of Victoria, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1987

Gibson, Lisanne; The uses of art, University of Queensland Press ,St Lucia, Qld, 2001

Gray, Jocelyn; Buvelot, Abram-Louis (1814–1888), Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University

Hammond, Victoria; and Peers, Juliet; Completing the Picture: Women Artists and the Heidelberg Era, Artmoves, Hawthorn East, 1992,

Heath, Gregory; The Marvellous Tradition of Australian Watercolour, artlife, Australian Decorative and Fine Arts Societies, Volume 26, 2017, p9-12

Kerley, Lucy Frances,  National Gallery Art School, The University of Melbourne archives

Mendelssohn, Joanna; Louis Buvelot,  Design and Art Australia Online, 2011

Montana, Andrew;  Arabesques of Beauty: Cullis Hill,  the 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition, decorative decor and painting, State Library of Victoria

Melbourne International Exhibition 1880, Official catalogue of the Exhibition, Volume One

Museums Victoria, Marvellous Melbourne,

National Gallery of Australia, Eugene von Guerard: Purrumbete from across the lake, 1858, ABC Education

National Gallery of Victoria, Australian Impressionism

National Library of Australia, Picturing Australia, 2009

Niall, Brenda; Life class: biographer of the Boyds, Brenda Niall considers the role of the Victorian Gallery School in their careers,  Meanjin, June 2003, p. 120+

Niall, Brenda; The Boyds, Melbourne University Press, 2002

Gerald W. Noble, Secondary Education in Van Diemen's Land, 1820-1857, iM.Ed. diss. University of Melbourne 1972.

Sanders, Dr Anne; Less than Six Degrees of Separation, Lecture, 28 May 2011, National Portrait Gallery, Australia

Shiell, Annette;  Fundraising, Flirtation and Fancywork: Charity Bazaars in Nineteenth Century, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012

The Cbus Collection 0f Australian Art, Emma Minnie Boyd

Theobald, Marjorie; Boundaries, Bridges, and the History of Education: An Australian Response to Maxine Schwartz Seller,  History of Education Quarterly, vol. 33, no. 4, 1993, pp. 497–510

Theobold, Marjorie; Knowing Women: Origins of Women's Education in Nineteenth-century Australia, Cambridge University Press, 1966,

Tipping, Marjorie;  Eugène von Guérard's Australian landscapes, 1st ed, Lansdowne Press, Melbourne, 1975.

Wignall, Edel; Christina's Matilda, Interactive Publications, 2011

Windschurtle, Elizabeth; Educating the Daughters of the Ruling Class in Colonial New South Wales.  1788-1850,  in Melbourne Studies in Education 1980, ed. S. Murray-Smith (Melbourne. 1980)

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