Great Hall Tapestry

Arthur Boyd, untitled (design for the Great Hall Tapestry)

Arthur Boyd, Untitled (Shoalhaven Landscape) (detail from the design for the Great Hall tapestry), 1984, oil on canvas, Parliament House Art Collection

This painting by Arthur Boyd (1920-99) was commissioned in 1984 by the Parliament House Construction Authority as the design for a tapestry to hang in the Great Hall.  

Arthur Boyd, one of Australia’s greatest artists, was approached by the Parliament House architects, Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp, to conceive of a work of art for this key position on the south wall of the Great Hall – a space intended for ceremonial and state occasions.  

Boyd proposed the idea of a tapestry to fulfil the commission. He produced three large canvases, one-quarter the scale of the finished tapestry, as designs for the commission. Untitled (Shoalhaven Landscape) 1984, was selected as the design for the tapestry.

The subject of Boyd’s painting is the dense forest of eucalypts in the Shoalhaven River valley, in south-eastern New South Wales. Boyd became familiar with this area throughout the 1970s and 1980s, living at Riversdale, the property he purchased in 1973, and later at Bundanon, purchased in 1979. The Shoalhaven landscape was the inspiration for many of Boyd’s paintings, where he sought to capture its colour and light, as well as the unique quality of its wooded banks.

The architectural vision for the Great Hall was that it would convey a sense of the Australian land, emphasising the importance of the physical environment in shaping Australian values. Boyd’s subject matter complements the native timbers used throughout the Hall. His design also emphasises the immensity of the landscape, with the horizon obscured and the trees continuing both above and below the canvas, and to each side. The tapestry surrounds the southern doorway of the Great Hall, giving people passing beneath a sense of moving through the landscape.  

Arthur Boyd cared passionately for the environment, and spoke about the need to adopt a caring relationship with the bush. In 1993, he and his wife Yvonne presented their 1,100 hectare Shoalhaven property as a gift to the Australian people.

Great Hall Tapestry, Victorian Tapestry Workshop

Great Hall Tapestry (1984 - 88), Arthur Boyd (artist) and Victorian Tapestry Workshop (interpretation and execution), wool, mercerised cotton and linen weft on a seine warp

Parliament House Art Collection

The renowned Victorian Tapestry Workshop in Melbourne was chosen to create the tapestry based on Arthur Boyd’s design. The scale and complexity of the project required much research and planning to resolve the technical problems involved in producing one of the world’s largest tapestries (measuring 20 metres wide by 9 metres high).

Boyd worked closely with the weavers in selecting the specially dyed yarns to match the colours in his painting. It took the equivalent of fourteen full-time weavers over two years to complete the tapestry, which was woven in four separate pieces.

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