Born Hahndorf, South Australia 1911, died Sydney 2003
As the daughter of Australian landscape painter Hans Heysen, Nora Heysen spent her childhood in an artistic milieu. While growing up, her home was frequented by the art cognoscenti of the day including Lionel Lindsay, Will Ashton and Sydney Ure Smith.
Heysen received a thorough education both from her father and through formal training at the Adelaide School of Art (1926–32), the Central School of Arts and Crafts, London (1934–36) and the Byam Shaw School, London (1937–38). By the time she was nineteen her work was represented in the collections of the Art Gallery of New South Wales and Art Gallery of South Australia.
Her early paintings were impressionist in style, but with time took on a modernist quality. Unlike her father, she preferred still life and portrait work to landscapes, with her subjects seemingly depicted as if ‘in the round’. As the artist explained in 1965: ‘I don’t feel things decoratively, I don’t feel that they’re flat. I feel that there’s light and air surrounding everything.’ 1
In 1938 Heysen made history as the first woman to be awarded the Archibald Prize. Her work has been included in many major survey exhibitions and is represented at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of South Australia, Queensland Art Gallery, Australian War Memorial and several regional galleries.
1 Quoted in Judy Cassab and Margaret Woodward Drawn together: the drawing lives of Nora Heysen, Parramatta Heritage Centre, Parramatta, New South Wales, 2005, p. 33. Originally from Hazel DeBerg, Interview with Nora Heysen, sound recording, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 1965, p. 4.