Hans and Nora Heysen: Two Generations of Australian Art is the first major exhibition to bring together the work of Hans and Nora Heysen, father and daughter artists whose work spanned more than a century during which Australia and the world underwent numerous social, political and artistic transformations. In many ways, theirs is an archetypal twentieth-century Australian story of migration, family life, wartime separation and a deep connection to place.
Both artists travelled widely in Europe as part of their artistic education, and their work demonstrates not only a profound knowledge and appreciation of international influences, but also engagement with their Australian contemporaries. While Hans Heysen devoted his mature practice predominantly to the portrayal of Australian landscape, Nora Heysen became renowned as a portraitist and painter of still lifes. In 1938 she was the first female winner of the prestigious Archibald Prize for portraiture, and her success continued when she was appointed official war artist in 1943.
While Hans Heysen’s work has remained popular, critical interest in it has waned, and this exhibition seeks to reposition him as pioneer of Australian landscape painting and one of the most accomplished artists of his generation. Despite early critical success, Nora Heysen fell into obscurity from the 1950s; however, she continued to paint and draw until her death in 2007 at the age of ninety-three. Hans and Nora Heysen: Two Generations of Australian Art is the most complete exhibition of her works to date and demonstrates her profound, at times paradoxical, mingling of sensitivity and strength.
Hans and Nora corresponded throughout their lives and their letters offer rare insight into their working methods, inspirations, and thoughts on the key artistic debates of their time. Hans and Nora Heysen: Two Generations of Australian Art also includes a large number of sketches and preparatory studies, many of which have never been exhibited before, that demonstrate not only the intricacies of their practice but also their extraordinary productivity.