1926 - 2016

Vale Mary Nolan

Arthur Boyd, Portrait of Mary Boyd, 1934, oil on canvas. Bundanon Trust Collection.

Vale Mary Nolan

Lady Mary Nolan, youngest sister of Arthur Boyd, has died peacefully in Wales at The Rodd, the home she established with her late husband Sir Sidney Nolan. She is survived by four children with her previous husband, Australian artist John Perceval.


Painter and potter, the youngest child born to artists Merric and Doris Boyd, Mary grew up at Open Country, Murrumbeena, on the rural outskirts of Melbourne. Like her sister and brothers – the artists Lucy, Arthur, Guy and David Boyd – Mary was immersed in the arts from an early age.

Mainly known to art audiences as the wife of John Perceval, and from 1978 the wife of Sidney Nolan in the final phase of his life, Mary Boyd is a more central figure in the post-war art world than the absence of an oeuvre might suggest.

Her early environment was one of female initiative. The Boyd children were guided by a powerful trio of women: Doris, who had studied at the Gallery School and who continued to paint after her marriage; 'Granny Gough’, a Fabian, pacifist and women’s rights campaigner; and 'Granny Boyd’, the painter Emma Minnie Boyd, who was the financial mainstay of Open Country during difficult times.

Peter Herbst has remarked that Mary Boyd approached the activities of ceramics and painting 'instinctively and naturally’. While she did not make the choice of her sister and brothers to become an artist, she went on to produce some fine photographic work, known in the main to friends and family. However her presence at Murrumbeena had its enduring legacy in the work of others. From an early age she appears as a subject in many paintings by Arthur Boyd and as a model for her other brother Guy’s sculptural work. In their Brueghelian celebration of communal life, John Perceval’s nativities and related works of the 1940s abound with visual references to Mary.

Mary Nolan lived until her death in Wales at The Rodd, the estate she and Sidney Nolan turned into a centre for communal art activities. This quietly influential Australian maintained a cultural DNA that is persistently Murrumbeena.


In November 2007 Lady Mary Nolan made a surprise visit to Bundanon, accompanied by Anthony Plant, Manager at The Rodd. Mary was in Australia for the Sidney Nolan retrospective exhibition which opened at AGNSW that month.

On this visit she shared that her happiest memories of Bundanon were when it was just her and Sidney with Arthur and Yvonne. ‘The boys’ would go off painting in the day and they would all share meals in the evening. The guest room upstairs in the Bundanon Homestead is still known informally as Sid and Mary’s room.

Information: Trove, NLA; The Boyds, Brenda Niall and Arthur Boyd A Life, Darleen Bungey and Jennifer Thompson, collections and Exhibitions Manager, Bundanon Trust.