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Emma Minnie Boyd (A'beckett)

1858 - 1936


Emma Minnie Boyd (A'beckett) was born at The Grange, Harkaway, near Berwick, Victoria, fourth child of William A.C. a'Beckett and his wife Emma, née Mills. Emma Minnie (known as Minnie) was a natural artist (her mother and her sisters, including Constance a'Beckett, all painted), brought up in a highly cultivated family that made much of its connection with the saintly twelfth-century bishop St Thomas a'Beckett but chose to forget that Minnie's maternal grandfather, the wealthy brewer John Mills, had been a 'Van-Demonian' convict. The financial inheritance was welcomed by the genteelly-poor a'Becketts but the convict heritage was obviously a sore point with the family, being totally ignored by Minnie's novelist son, Martin, in his otherwise overly-scrupulous family history.

After some art instruction at Madame Pfund's school, and producing fine watercolours such as Interior with Figures, The Grange (1875) in her teens, Minnie studied at the National Gallery School (1876-77 and 1879-88) and is also said to have had private lessons with Louis Buvelot. Her career as an exhibitor began early. With the Victorian Academy of Arts she showed An Afternoon Nap in 1874, four watercolours (Choosing a Book and four outdoor scenes) in 1875 and School Girls in 1882, then The Yarra at Heidelberg at the Victorian Jubilee Exhibition in 1884 and several watercolour drawings and a pair of painted terra-cotta plaques at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in 1886 - the year she married fellow artist Arthur Merric Boyd.

Both Minnie and Arthur exhibited with the Australian Artists' Association in 1887 and again in 1888 when it reorganised as the Victorian Artists' Society (VAS). At the 1888-89 Melbourne Centennial International Exhibition, Minnie exhibited both oils and watercolours. After the birth of their first two children, the Boyds travelled to England with Minnie's parents in 1890. In June Minnie's father bought the old a'Beckett family estate, Penleigh; in 1891 Minnie and Arthur each exhibited at the Royal Academy; in 1892, the family set off on a European tour; in 1893, they found that several Melbourne banks had failed and part of the Mills' fortune was lost. They all (including two more children) returned to Melbourne in December. The Boyds, whose allowance from the a'Becketts was now reduced, lived in Brighton and (from 1898) Sandringham, with Minnie giving painting lessons to supplement their income. They moved out of the suburbs in 1907, inheriting enough when Minnie's mother died to buy a farm at Yarra Glen. Minnie continued to paint, but always as an amateur; she never sought to sell her paintings although she exhibited them. Her work was included in the 1898 Exhibition of Australian Art at the Grafton Galleries, London, and she continued to show her work with the VAS for many years.

Like many women artists of her generation, Minnie is remembered as the matriarch of a highly talented family rather than as an artist in her own right. David and Arthur Boyd owe a great deal to their grandmother for the following they have today. Her work, from her early (sometimes pretty, sometimes astringent) domestic scenes to her later gentle landscapes, deserves greater attention. Apart from a few done in England (e.g. To the Workhouse 1891, NGV), her paintings give no hint of her own increasingly strict self-denial in the service of religion and charitable works. Emma Minnie Boyd died on 13 September 1936, back at Sandringham.



Emma Minnie Boyd (A'beckett) art
Artwork Title:
Young Girl, c1880
19.5cm x 19.5cm

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