d’Arcy Doyle

Iconic Australian Painter

Danny Nolan

I was watching a documentary recently on the great American commercial painter Norman Rockwell. He was a genius at portraying everyday people in common everyday scenes, sometimes with a touch of humour but always with sense of warmth and affection. His portraits of American scenes and situations have become the standard of what people perceive as “everyday” American life from the 1930s to 60s. This whole episode got me reminiscing about my formative years, mainly the mid-1970s and 1980s, and the Australian artist d’Arcy W Doyle whose works had a similar effect to that Rockwell had on his country and why Doyle rates as one of my favourite local artists.

It is no surprise that Doyle’s work would leave an impression on those from that era as Doyle was a canny businessman and, like Ken Done who followed him, marketed his work into countless prints and advertising paraphernalia such as biscuit tins, dinner trays and calendars. At one time it was estimated that one in ten Australian homes had one of his works in some form or another.

This was fortunate for me, because at the time growing up surrounded by these images though I had no real interest in art or illustration at that time, the familiarity of it left its mark on my memory. When I was a young lad my brothers and I were often packed up during school holidays and sent by bus up to Yea, the township from where my Mum’s family originated and where many still lived along with our countless cousins. It wasn’t until later that looking closer at some of these d’Arcy Doyle pictures and his depiction of country life that I started to experience a major feeling of déjà vu.


Though Doyle based many of these paintings around his own home in South East Queensland, they echoed my summers in Yea. The wide dusty dirt roads, playing cricket in the late afternoon-early evening in baggy shorts and shoeless.  A mixed group of both boys and girls of varying ages with nary a parent to be seen. Even the houses resembled my Aunty and Uncle’s. Some sitting high with trestles and other close to the street behind unkempt hedges. It was like a snapshot was taken of our time on those holidays away from home while Mum and Dad worked.

d’Arcy Doyle was more than a capturer of streetscapes. His deep affinity with the bush produced many landscapes, once again predominantly Queensland, and his portrait of Sir Donald Bradman is considered a classic. He also became renowned as a mural painter, receiving commissions to do similar types of work in many Sydney RSLs, an organisation close to his heart as he had served in the Australian Navy for seven years including a stint in Korea.

Doyle died of bone cancer in 2001, something he battled for over a decade, but his legacy continues with the d’Arcy Doyle Art Awards now in their 16th year contributing to the success of artists from across the country. The main landscape category boasts a $10,000 first prize with further categories in Portraiture and Still Life. .The awards and exhibition showcase the best of Australian art from professionals and up and coming emerging artists with The d’Arcy Doyle Schools Challenge section dedicated to ‘for children attending junior, middle and high schools’.

So, while Doyle’s prints and ephemera are not as prevalent as they once were, he still has a big stake in the future of other artists and he has left his mark on my memories even though it was only three or four works it’s probably influenced me more than most artists in my life.