Sir Hans Heysen - The Master painter of Australian landscapes

Copyright Millie Brown

"I feel that an artist must receive his so called inspiration from  a direct emotional reaction to something seen in nature. It must come through the eye to the mind, just as the art of music comes through the ear to the mind and is then transformed into a personal creation.  I doubt the value of a painting unless it has that 'inner feeling' that is the result of the love for the thing seen and painted - therefore I suppose we paint best those things with which are most familiar . As long as we have our minds receptive." - Sir Hans Heyson

"It's (the gum tree) main appeal to me has been its combination of mightiness and delicacy - mighty in its strength of limb and delicate in the coloring of its covering.  Then it has distinctive qualities; in fact I know of no other tree which is more decorative, both as regards the flow of its limbs and the patterns the bark makes on its main trunk. In all its stages the gum tree is extremely beautiful." Sir Hans Heysen

Hans Heysen (1877 - 1968) The German born South Australian is one of Australia's most popular and renowned landscape artists, his work can be seen on the walls of Australia's major art galleries and in many private houses. He is best remembered for his oil paintings and watercolours of South Australian landscapes and most notably for his work in the Adelaide hills and in the Flinders Ranges.

Heysen had a great love affair with nature and in particular with the Australian Red Gum and White Gum trees, as seen in so many of his landscapes and depictions of life in South Australia. He was also known for his magnificent charcoal work, some say he was one of the great masters of this medium.

On the weekend I visited the former family residence of Heysen and his studio, known as The Cedars, set in 60 hectares of land located near the town of Hahndorf in the Adelaide hills.

Copyright Millie Brown

Copyright Millie Brown

What a pleasure it was to discover the private and artistic haven of this prolific painter and his family. The house stands as it stood during their happy family years and his productive artistic life. Purchased in 1912 by Heysen, it was here he lived with his wife Sallie and their 8 children. The property is still owned by the Heysen family.

Copyright Millie Brown

The home is full of personal objects and very little has been altered or touched since the time the last family member lived there. Some 200 works of art are on display between both the house and the studio and its a beautiful and extraordinary experience to be able to appreciate the work of an artist of this calibre within the walls of both his home and his studio.

Over the years I have visited other studios and homes of various artists, however none have touched me to the extent that this visit did. Jean the volunteer tour guide is wonderfully and quietly passionate about the life and work of Hans Heysen and his family, and has many touching and personal stories to share with those who visit. The house retains a warm and loving feel, (unusual given that it is no longer lived in), it must be the soul of a happy family life that lingers.

Copyright Millie Brown

Copyright Millie Brown

Copyright Millie Brown

Copyright Millie Brown

Copyright Millie Brown

The visitor can also enjoy the work of Heysen's daughter Nora Heysen (1911 - 2003), a brilliant artist in her own right, and like her father her work is exhibited in some of Australia's most important art galleries. Nora was known for her portrait and still life paintings and was the first woman to win the prestigious Archibald prize in 1938 with her portrait of Mme Elink Schuuman.  She was also the first female to be appointed an Australian war artist.  Many of Nora's paintings are hanging in both the house and in her studio adjacent to the house.

It is prohibited to take any photos inside the house or studio (for obvious reasons). The house may only be visited with a tour guide at various set times during the day (except for Mondays). While the house is not open on Mondays it is open on Monday public holidays.


One of my favourite paintings by Heyson is the masterpiece 'Droving into the light' (1914 - 21), you can admire it here and read the story behind the painting.

On the eve of Heysen's twenty-second birthday (in 1899) he boarded a ship bound for Europe where he was to study painting. In the four years he remained there he traveled, lived and painted in various countries such as France (where he remained for 2 and a half years), Germany, Scotland and Italy.

In the year 1903 Heysen WALKED and painted his way from Florence to Rome. He then moved on to Naples, and to the island of Capri.

You may like to see a couple of Heysen's masterly and stunning watercolours from his time in Venice;

St Mark's Basin here

The Dogana and the Salute here

This is an historic Australian treasure that should be at the top of any art lovers list of experiences, its a 40 minute drive from the center of the city and I'm truly sorry it has taken me so long to get there!

When I look at Hans Heysen's work, especially his earlier work, I'm in a way nostalgic for days past, days that I never knew and never will. When life seemed simpler and less noisy, when only horse and man drove the sheep and mustered the cattle through the gums and the filtered dust and light of the Australian bush. I want to step back in time with my camera and record this way of life. I can't of course and so I look to see the magic that exists now, and in all the confusion, noise and messiness of modern day life there are thankfully still some breathtakingly beautiful moments.

Recommended Reading

Hans Heysen | Rebecca Andrews | Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

Heysen of Hahndorf | Colin M Thiele

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