Sunday, 15 May 2011


“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was in Adelaide all day today and although the weather was hardly something to write home about, at least it was not raining and it was not too cold. However, gray skies and coolish temperatures meant that a brisk walk was good to get one’s blood circulating and the feet warm! Our graduation was in the afternoon so I had time to pop into the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA) and admire some of my favourite paintings there.

The Art Gallery of South Australia is home to one of Australia’s finest collections of art, both Australian and International. The permanent display of Australian art in this gallery is outstanding, and as one walks through the exhibition spaces, one becomes aware of the development of Australian art from the colonial period to the present day. Its collection of 19th century colonial art contains fine examples of early oil painting, watercolours, sculpture, silver and furniture.

The gallery also has a comprehensive collection of Aboriginal desert dot paintings from Central Australia, dating from the beginning of the painting movement in the early 1970s. One can also trace the history of European art from the 15th to 20th century, particularly the development of landscape and portrait painting. The highlight of the gallery’s Asian collection is its holdings of South East Asian ceramics that is the finest museum collection of such material in the world.

One of joys of the collection that I always spend much time admiring is the clutch of tableaux by Hans Heysen. Sir Wilhelm Ernst Hans Franz Heysen was born in Hamburg on the 8th October 1877 and died in Hahndorf, near Adelaide, 2nd July 1968. His family settled in South Australia in 1884. Heysen attended the Norwood Art School under James Ashton (1859–1935), and then moved to Paris to study at the Académie Julian, Colarossi’s academy and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. His travels took him all over Europe where he absorbed the European tradition of painting.

Heysen was much influenced by Constable, the Barbizon school, George Clausen, Ernest Atkinson Hornel and Frank Brangwyn. In 1904, after returning to Adelaide, he sold major oils to the National Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (“Coming Home”), and the National Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide (“Mystic Morn” - seen above). In 1908 he moved to Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills. Heysen recorded the labours of the German farmers who had settled in the area, in oils, watercolours, drawings and (occasionally) etchings. Heysen saw the rural labourers of Hahndorf much as Millet regarded the Fontainebleau peasants. This aspect of his work reached its peak in “Red Gold” (1913).

Heysen managed to capture the essence of the Australian landscape. His paintings are rich in colour, display a magnificent sense of light and drama, while at the same time being highly satisfying in terms of composition, subject matter and technique.


  1. The painting is beautiful, Nicholas, but I wouldn't describe it as exactly "colourful"! However, having looked at some more of this artist's work on the net, I can see what you mean. This particular painting is stark in its khaki tones but pleasing nevertheless.

  2. Thanks a lot for this discovering of the Australian school of painting, not enough known in Europe.
    I like very much those colors, and thought on the first sight at the Barbizon groupe, though with warmest colors.