Friday, September 10, 2021

Hahndorf: The Studio of Nora Heysen


Nora Heysen is recognised as one of Australia's most significant 20th-century female artists, being the first woman to win the Archibald Prize (1938), and the first woman appointed as an Australian War Artist (1943-46). Her art is in the collections of the Australian War Museum, the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery and the National Library, together with state and regional art galleries, and numerous private collections.

Born in Hahndorf in 1911, Nora was the fourth child and daughter of Hans and Sallie Heysen. Her first formal art studies were with Mary Overbury who tutored the Heysen children. From 1926 Nora studied at the North Adelaide School of Fine Art, which led to her winning the Melrose Prize for portraiture (1933). After a very SUCcessful solo exhibition, Nora Heysen travelled to London for further study and to visit major collections in Europe. She returned to Australia in 1937 and resided in Sydney until her passing in December 2003.

Nora Heysen's private collection returned to The Cedars after her death and is the single largest collection of her works. Her paintings, drawings, books and personal artefacts are now displayed in changing exhibitions in her restored studio. They include some of her finest portraits, still lifes and drawings from the model. We can trace Nora's career from her student studies at age 15, to drawings from her War service, and the works of a mature artist through to her final oil painting, Apples on a chair (1995).

Apples on a chair, 1995 oil on canvas, 40.5 x 51.0 cm; Collection of the Nora Heysen Foundation, The Cedars, Hahndorf 

Nora Heysen used the art equipment and materials on display. Especially note the palette given to the young artist by Dame Nellie Melba, and a portfolio case for transporting works in the Pacific region in World War II. On her travels, Nora acquired the ceramics and other personal effects that often appear in her still life works. Nora Heysen's library gives us an insight into her artistic interests and influences. Jane Hylton's book, Nora Heysen: light and life, provides a comprehensive overview of the artist's life and work.

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