Updated: Mar 25, 2020
NGV, Melbourne, Australia 15 July 2019
What always surprises me is the number of times I go into an art gallery and discover enormous talent that I hadn't come across before. It happened today. Two new names to me, father and daughter: Hans and Nora Heysen. OK this is Australia and I'm European but the last time this kind of thing hit me was in Copenhagen when I found that Denmark had a Golden Age of painting. And what a Golden Age! But maybe more on that another time. The two man /woman retrospective in Melbourne was a treat - three visits to finish it - and since the exhibition closes at the end of this month, I was lucky to see it. Especially lucky I think to see two styles developing over time and for several years overlapping. Hans Heyson started drawing almost as soon as he was out of diapers and didn't quit till he finally turned in his brushes in 1968. Ditto the daughter: painting in petticoats, winning prizes from her early twenties on, the first female Australian war artist, with her works in great demand in old age. So what did I think of her work? Well, here was a woman determined enough to move out from the long shadow cast by her father. And for that she moved away from the family home in a small Adelaide village, took herself to London and then Sydney and followed Australian troops into battle.
Fine draftsman(woman)ship, still underpinned her new, freer style but now that style was developing. Her flower paintings are a treat, her still lifes fresh. But for me it’s her portraits that stand out. And above all, her self portraits. Honest enough to let you feel you're seeing the real woman, warm enough to let you into her soul and at the same time, analytic and detached – so that in the end you have no doubt that Nora you see on her canvases was the real Nora Heysen.
You might like these books: Nora Heysen: Light & Life by Jane Hylton / Hans Heysen: Into the Light by Jane Hylton and John Neylon . You can read my reviews on Goodreads: