Friday, August 27, 2010

Hans Heysen

Currently at the Queensland Art Gallery is a major retrospective celebrating one of Australia’s most respected and influential landscape artists, Hans Heysen. The exhibition spanning his entire career includes 80 odd works and presents not only the depictions of ‘Iconic Gums’ that canonized him in the realm of Australian art but also includes paintings of his lesser-known themes.

Image: Google Image

The huge canvases of the famous gums, composed of loose brushstrokes with a myriad of different colours render such a truthful and honest depiction of the South Australian landscapes. These landscapes are a direct product of his early years as a young artist in Europe. A beautiful example of his innate ability to accurately capture the emotional experience and sensations of a landscape is seen in the exhibition’s central paintings, The Three Gums 1915-20 and Mystic Morn 1904. These paintings situated beside each other are overwhelming. Not just in size but in accuracy of the emotions and sensations of the land. Words cannot do these paintings justice; harmonious and poetic they really need to be experienced to be appreciated.

Spending most of his early years in Venice and Paris, it is obvious through the array of different styles and subject matter of the paintings that this time of experimentation was integral in developing the style Heysen became famous for. His exposure to French art is clearly seen in these primary works which pay close attention to the effects of light and atmosphere. Influences from the Impressionists, Realists and Barbizon School are not just evident in these early works but are apparent throughout the whole exhibition.

Two great examples of the influence Europe had on his career later in life is seen in both of the lesser-known themes of the exhibition ‘Toileries of the Land’ and ‘Still-Life and Domestic Life’. In ‘Toileries of the Land’ the four smaller paintings of the repeated motif of horse and plough exult agricultural life and labour much the same way as works such as, The Stonebreakers by French Realist artist Courbet. Again in ‘Still-Life and Domestic Life’ the painting Sewing (the artist’s wife) 1913 is a depiction of his wife at a sewing desk looking out a window. The loose brushwork, harmonious composition and filtered light through the lace curtains celebrates the style of Impressionism and really illustrates the importance these early years had on his career.

The exhibition finishes with a collection of Heysen’s study of the Flinders Rangers. Painted later in his life he is one of the first artists to illustrate this area. His visits mostly coinciding with the drought season have resulted in large spacious compositions with more simplified forms and vibrant colour. This approach is significantly more modern and is really typified in the watercolour painting Aroona 1939.

An extraordinary exhibition of the life and art of such an inspirational and remarkable Australian it is no wonder Heysen is still being celebrated after his death. Broken into five key themes the range of subject matter and sheer talent of the artist will keep you constantly enthralled. Making Hans Heysen an exhibition not to be missed.

Open until the 24th of October check it out at


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