Hans Heysen exhibition, Adelaide


As an Australian of a certain age, I am well familiar with the typical Hans Heysen painting of gum trees that seemed to adorn every school corridor during the 1960s and 70s.  I wonder if the Education Department had/has  a warehouse with hackneyed Australian paintings- rows of faded “Shearing the Lambs”, a couple of hundred doleful Dobels and forests of Heysen gum trees.

I’ve been over in Adelaide the last week for the Australian and New Zealand Legal History Society conference.  I intentionally arrived one day early to check out the galleries and museum before the conference began.  I approached the Heysen exhibition with some trepidation, wondering if it would be gum tree after gum tree.

I was pleasantly surprised.  I hadn’t realized how much acclaim Heysen received at the time, winning scholarships and prizes overseas, and following that well-worn path to French art-school.  I particularly liked this painting of turkey bums- a painting which he noted for its complex structure with the movement of the turkeys through the saplings.


It was interesting to see the way that he had to recalibrate his eye for landscape once he went into the Flinders Ranges which were so different from the Adelaide hills and Hahndorf where he made his reputation.

The exhibition will be travelling to different locations in regional galleries next year.  It’s well worth a look, if nothing else to challenge your weariness over yet another Heysen gum tree.

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