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Betty Burstall
, 1945

by Arthur Boyd

oil on canvas (frame: 88.5 cm x 72.4 cm, support: 80.0 cm x 64.0 cm)

Betty Burstall AM (1926–2013) played a vital role in the development of theatre in Australia. Born in Queensland and raised in Melbourne, she commenced an Arts degree at the University of Melbourne in the 1940s, but was expelled on becoming pregnant to her boyfriend, Tim Burstall (1927–2004), later to become an influential filmmaker. They married in 1946 and shortly afterwards moved to Eltham north-east of Melbourne where Betty worked at the local high school as a French and English teacher. In 1967, she founded La Mama in Carlton, an independent theatre modeled on the original in New York. Local actors, writers, directors, poets and musicians were encouraged to use the space for innovative, small-scale productions, thus providing an outlet for ground-breaking Australian theatre and fostering writers like David Williamson, Jack Hibberd and Tes Lyssiotis. One of the inaugural appointees to the Australia Council, Burstall was named a Member of the Order of Australia in 1993 for her contribution to the performing arts. Following her death, aged eighty-seven in June 2013, a group of Australian writers donated funds toward the establishment of the Betty Burstall Commission, which is to be awarded annually to an emerging playwright.

Arthur Boyd (1920–1999), painter, potter and printmaker was amongst Australia’s great twentieth-century artists. The son of Merric and Doris Boyd, both painters and ceramicists, Boyd took up art at a young age, later studying at the National Gallery School and informally with his grandfather, Arthur Merric Boyd, a noted landscape painter. A member of the group of artists that included John Perceval and Albert Tucker, Boyd held his first solo exhibition in the late 1930s, becoming known for landscapes and mythical subjects executed in his distinct, expressive style. Boyd produced few formal portraits, but painted this work in the 1940s when Burstall was a regular visitor to his family’s property. He also used her distinctive face in his religious paintings in the late 1940s, and in his murals at The Grange.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 1998
Arthur Boyd's work reproduced with the permission of the Bundanon Trust
Accession number: 1998.9