Australian painter Bundanon’s beloved estate is reborn with 32 rooms and a bushfire-resistant gallery

Bundanon, the sprawling rural estate donated to Australia by artist Arthur Boyd, will reopen in early 2022 after an A $ 33 million ($ 25 million) redevelopment, including a bushfire-resistant underground gallery and a 160m long bridge housing a learning center and accommodation in a style inspired by the former owner’s outdoor painting practice.

Boyd, who died in 1999, produced many of his most beloved landscapes in Bundanon, nearly 200 km south of Sydney. The Boyds regularly returned to Bundanon from their other home in Suffolk, UK. Bundanon fascinated them when they first saw it in 1971, and they bought it in 1979. Pulpit Rock, seen across the Shoalhaven River from the property’s colonial house, appears in many Boyd paintings.

The artist’s plan was for Bundanon to be used to foster the future of Australian arts and for the public to enjoy it freely. True to this vision, the property welcomes 350 artists and other creatives each year as part of Australia’s largest residency program. So far Bundanon has only opened its doors one day a week and for special events. With the new facilities and programs, it will switch to an opening five days a week, Wednesday through Sunday, according to its new chief executive, Rachel Kent.

Australian artist Arthur Boyd painting in Bundanon circa 1993 Photo: Bundanon Archives

“Bundanon has never really faced attackers full time before, so it’s a really big change. The ambition is very high, ”says Kent.

The new underground gallery involved the digging of a tunnel in a wooded hill. It will house special exhibitions as well as the art collection of Bundanon, AU $ 46 million ($ 34.5 million), Boyd, other members of his artistic family and other modern Australian artists. Two large “chimneys” will run from top to bottom across the top of the hill, acting as skylights for the gallery and giving a glimpse of the bush.

The spectacular, leggy design of the new Bundanon Bridge, which spans a sometimes flood-prone ravine, echoes the old trestle bridges typical of Australia’s floodplains, says Melbourne-based architect Kerstin Thompson.

In addition to the dining rooms and creative learning spaces, there are 32 bedrooms on the deck. Featuring sliding screens and wooden shutters, the bedrooms are painted one of Boyd’s favorite shades of blue, and the windows overlooking the landscape are the same dimensions as his favorite large canvases. Guests will feel a close connection to nature, Thompson says. “The bridge has a nice feeling of shade. But it’s not about locking yourself in an air-conditioned hotel room.

Bundanon’s new buildings under construction in August 2021 Photo: Courtesy of Bundanon

Bundanon is not a hotel, says Kent, but a welcoming place for those engaged in its cultural, environmental and First Nations programs. “It is a top priority to support and engage with the First Nations community and land maintenance. The Wodi Wodi people of the Shoalhaven area are a very active and engaged community, ”she says.

The institution has just signed a “cultural burning” program with the local indigenous populations which will guide its management of the bush following the 2019-2020 fires which roared less than a kilometer from the site. The then general manager, Deborah Ely, was forced to evacuate the property’s most valuable paintings and archives.

The redevelopment of Bundanon was largely funded by the Australian Federal Government and the State of New South Wales. Kent says public investment has enabled Bundanon to become more self-reliant.

She describes Bundanon as an “extraordinary” treasure. “It’s the landscape and the environment, it’s the art and the culture, there’s the story of Arthur Boyd and the Boyd family, the Arthur Boyd farm and studio, and then you have this brand new infrastructure. “

In the words of Boyd himself: “There are wonderful bush walks, rare wildflowers, kangaroos, lyre birds, flowering birds, owls, lorikeets, cockatoos, wombats. “

James C. Tibbs