Nora Heysen

Nora Heysen

NORA HEYSEN AM was the first woman artist to win, in 1938, the Archibald Prize for portraiture and the first Australian woman artist appointed, in 1943, as an official war artist during the Second World War.

Nora Heysen was born in Hahndorf, South Australia on 11 January 1911. She was the fourth of eight children of the esteemed landscape artist Sir Hans Heysen and his wife Selma, and was raised at ‘The Cedars’ in the Adelaide Hills.

She studied art at the School of Fine Arts in Adelaide from 1926 to 1930 and established herself as an artist at a very early age, with works purchased by the Art Gallery of NSW and the Art Gallery of South Australia in 1930 when she was just 19 years old.

Her first solo exhibition was held in Adelaide at the Royal South Australian Society of Arts Gallery. An exhibition was held in Sydney in 1933, and in the following year she traveled to London, remaining in Europe until 1937, studying and painting. When she returned to Australia she established her studio in Sydney.

In 1938 she was awarded the Archibald Prize for a portrait of Madame Elink Schurman. In 1943 she became the first woman to be appointed as an Australian war artist, commissioned to depict the efforts of women during the war. During her service, she completed over 170 works before being discharged in 1946 in New Guinea.

In New Guinea, Nora Heysen met and later married Dr Robert Black. She continued to paint, draw and exhibit, but for the next four decades her work was largely overlooked until a resurgence of interest in her work and her historical significance as an artist was recognized.

In 1993 she was awarded the Australia Council Award for Achievement in the Arts and in 1998 she was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for her service to art.

Her works are held in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia, the Australian War Memorial, the National Library of Australia, the National Portrait Gallery and several state galleries. An extensive collection of her drawings is held by ‘The Cedars’ and an exhibition of her work, celebrating her centenary, is on display during 2011 at ‘The Cedars’ in the studio she occupied as a young girl.