Hans Heysen (1877-1968) is one of Australia’s greatest landscape artists, and is a personal favourite of mine. He was born in Hamburg, Germany, and came to Australia at the age of 7 when his family migrated to Adelaide, South Australia. He left school when he was 14 working in a hardware store whilst studying art part-time under James Ashton. One of his earliest works is At Friedrichstadt, Hahndorf (1897). The small German village of Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills was to become a place synonymous with Hans Heysen.
At Friedrichstadt, Hahndorf (1897)
His talent was soon recognised and in 1897 he was sponsored by a group of wealthy South Australian businessmen to study in France for the next four years. When he returned to Adelaide he continued his growing success and acclaim, winning the Wynne Prize in 1904 for his painting Mystic Morn.
Mystic Morn (1904)
He won the Wynne Prize again in 1909 and 1911 for the watercolour Summer and the painting Hauling Timber, respectively. In this period he also painted A Pastoral (1907).
A Pastoral (1907)
In the years prior to the 1st World War Hans Heysen’s popularity and finances substantially increased, allowing him in 1912 to purchase a property called ‘The Cedars’ near Hahndorf. This was to remain his home and main studio until his death in 1968. Paintings in this period include Approaching storm with bushfires (1912), and Red Gold (1913), which subsequently became his most popular work.
Approaching Storm with Bushfires (1912)
Red Gold (1913)
During the 1st World War (1914-18) due being German born, Hans Heysen was considered an enemy alien. This is despite the fact that he had lived in Australia from the age of 7, and achieved considerable national and international acclaim for his Australian landscapes. He was placed under house arrest for the duration of the war. However, due to his reputation many national and international artists from various domains travelled up to Hahndorf to visit him. This included Dame Nellie Melba who sang for Hans Heysen and his family on a little make-shift stage in the living room of ‘The Cedars’ that is still intact today. One of Hans Heysens most beautiful works, Droving into the Light, dates from this period. He commenced the work in 1914 but did not complete it until 1921, possibly due to the psychological pressure of being regarded as an enemy-alien in his own country.
However, he continued to win awards and acclaim for his work, including the watercolours Toilers (1920), The Quarry (1922), and Afternoon in Autumn (1924), and the painting Farmyard, Frosty Morning (1926). One of his most interesting works from the late 1920s is Patawarta: Land of the Oratunga (1929). Not only does the painting reveal Heysen’s interests with indigenous tribes in the Flinders Ranges and surrounding region, but also his evolution as a major Australian landscape artist. The painting resonates with some of the works by Albert Namatjira, even though it pre-dates by 5 years any of the major works by Namatjira. It is possible, however, that Heysen’s work influenced the young Albert Namatjira due to Namatjira being raised at the German founded Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission. The German-Australian influence on some indigenous art and artists is exemplified by what came to be known as works deriving from the Hermannsburg School, Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory.
Patawarta: Land of the Oratunga (1929)
Hans Heysen continued to work throughout the rest of his long life. He won the Wynne Prize in 1931 for his watercolour Red Gums of the Far North, and again in 1932 for his painting Brachina Gorge. Collectively he won the Wynne Prize 9 times, which remains an unbroken record for this prestigious art prize. In 1935 the Australian photographer Harold Cazneaux (1878-1953) took a portrait of Hans Heysen. Both men were contemporaries and extremely influential on other Australian artists in their respective fields of art. Hans Heysen’s daughter, Nora Heysen, was also an important ‘modern’ Australian artist.
In 1945 Hans Heysen was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE), and in 1959 was made a Knight Bachelor for his services to art. The 1,200 kilometres long-distance walking track, from the Flinders Ranges to (via the Adelaide Hills) Cape Jervis on the Fleurieu Peninsular is called The Heysen Trail in honour of Sir Hans Heysen. There are other landmarks and objects named after Hans Heysen, such as the Heysen Tunnels that cut through Mt Lofty and the Adelaide Hills. Many of Hans Heysen’s work are on display at the South Australian Art Gallery, as well as other major galleries throughout Australia. However, one of the joys (of many) of living in Adelaide is being able to visit Hans Heysen’s home ‘The Cedars’, just outside of Hahndorf. Not only is the house and studio fascinating but also the grounds. You can go for walks through the surrounding bush land and with specially curated signs posts and guides you can actually see some of the respective landscapes that inspired Hans Heysen. Truly wonderful.