Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Nora Heysen at The Ervin

Yesterday I read a small paragraph in the paper that the S.H. Ervin Gallery was presenting a retrospective of the works of Nora Heysen. Even though I was tired from an early start and a rushed and stressful morning Speech Day performance I made a point of stopping in.

"Born in Hahndorf, South Australia, 1911, Nora Heysen was an artist of extraordinary ability and tenacity and is best known through her exquisite still life paintings and absorbing portraits. Nora was the fourth of celebrated artist, Hans Heysen's eight children. As the first female artist to be awarded the Archibald Prize in 1938 her skill as a portraitist also paved the way for her appointment as the first Australian woman to be appointed an official war artist in 1943. Until her death in 2003, at age 92, the artist lived and worked in her Sydney home, 'The Chalet', in Hunters Hill, where she painted and drew with boundless energy and an amazing vitality of colour."

The Ervin is one of my favourite galleries because it tends to show a lot of Artists that don't quite make it to Blockbuster status. Many of these artists are, of course, women.
"The exclusiveness of the gallery lays in the fact that it showcases works from Australian women artists and thus provides a pedestal to many talents who might otherwise have gone unnoticed."

I first saw Nora Heysen back in 2001 in the "Modern Australian Women" Exhibition touring through the Ervin. Like many women artist of the time there are many obligatory still life with flowers but it's her portraits that capture my attention.

The painting of Florence Miles, a transport driver during the war, wasn't included in this exhibition, which is a shame. I think it has far more relevance and meaning than the posed images of the higher ranking female officers she was required to produce as part of her appointment as official war artist.