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NORA HEYSEN - Zinnias and Fruit
  • NORA HEYSEN - Zinnias and Fruit

© Courtesy of Lou Klepac


NORA HEYSEN (1911-2003)

Zinnias and Fruit 1932

Estimate: $35000 - 45000


NORA HEYSEN (1911-2003)

Zinnias and Fruit 1932

oil on canvas
55.0 x 45.0 cm; 72.0 x 62.0 cm (framed)
signed and dated lower left: NORA HEYSEN 1932
bears inscription on backing verso: 'ZINNIAS + FRUIT'/ BY NORA HEYSEN

Greenhill Galleries, Adelaide
Private collection, Queensland

Estimate: $35000 - 45000

Nora Heysen is undoubtedly one of Australia’s most celebrated female artists of the 20th century, an artist who remained dedicated to the still life genre throughout her career of more than 75 years. Despite the challenges she faced as a young female working at a time of unprecedented change in the art world, she remained true to her love for depicting the natural world and her favourite subject – flowers. Her idyllic upbringing in rural South Australia by her parents, Hans and Sallie Heysen, instilled in the artist a love for the wide, open landscape of the Adelaide Hills. Her father, the artist Hans Heysen (1877-1968), was already a well-established figure in the Australian art world, known for his bucolic oil and watercolour scenes of the landscape around Hahndorf, the location of the family home. The fourth of eight children, she remembers lying on the floor of her father’s studio with her siblings, watching him draw and paint for hours. Heysen would accompany her father on outdoor painting trips and watch as he drew and painted the landscape, studying his technique and draughtsmanship.

Confidence in her own ability was buoyed by the critique of visiting artist friends of the family such as Lionel Lindsay (1874-1961) and Will Ashton (1881-1963) who would complement the work she showed them. Of all the eight children, Nora was the only sibling to pursue art and, with her parents’ blessing, began studies at the School of Fine Arts in North Adelaide. Despite art school being rigorously structured and academic, the lessons provided her with a solid technical foundation. On weekends however, she would experiment with different mediums and techniques and, over time, her own style evolved. The young artist strove to move out from her father’s shadow by focussing on the genres of still life and portraiture, rather than the landscapes for which he had become so well-known. As Heysen matured and shaped her own artistic identity, she was never certain ‘whether people praised my work because it was good or whether I was Hans Heysen’s daughter’.(1) She acknowledged however, that there was ‘no doubt that I learned more from him than I did from anyone else.’(2) By 1931, three of her works had been acquired by state institutions - the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Art Gallery of South Australia and the Queensland Art Gallery.

Heysen found inspiration in the work of the European masters including Jan Vermeer (1632-1675) and Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904), the latter especially in the way she arranged her still life compositions. Upon visiting the National Gallery in London, she wrote in a letter to her father:

I have been looking at the Dutch flower pieces and the Fantin, and feel I want to paint flowers with the delicacy and refinement and the beauty of detail the Dutchman achieves and yet with the feeling and body of the Fantin flowers. For all the wonder of the Dutch flowers, I love the Fantin best and always pay it a visit.(3)

Zinnias and Fruit was painted in 1932, a pivotal year in the artist’s career as she had secured her first solo exhibition which was to take place the following year in Adelaide. Heysen worked feverishly in the lead-up to the exhibition and the work she produced during this time demonstrates a distinct maturity and self-assuredness which marks her artistic coming of age. All 30 still life paintings in her 1933 solo exhibition were sold.

Zinnias and Fruit demonstrates Heysen’s understanding of form and strong sense of colour, characteristics that would come to define her oeuvre. The well-balanced composition of bright red, pink and yellow zinnias atop a tableau of richly coloured fruits, dark timber and patterned cloth create a harmonious scene which is a pleasure to observe.

Heysen’s long and productive career was punctuated by war and frequent international travel however the still life genre was a constant throughout. Despite the evolution of her artistic style, flowers were a subject that she would return to, and which represent some of her most accomplished work.

Into this seemingly simple genre she has been able to pour her soul and it has been a most rewarding activity. Flowers…have remained the means of keeping such a perfect and happy dream alive no matter what else has happened to her.(4)


1. Hylton, J., Nora Heysen: Light & Life, Wakefield Press, Adelaide, 2009, p.12
2. Ibid.
3. Nora Heysen to Hans Heysen in Speck, C., Selected Letters of Hans Heysen and Nora Heysen, Wakefield Press, Adelaide, 2019, pp.33-34
4. Klepac, L., Nora Heysen, The Beagle Press, Sydney, 1989, p.18

Caroline Jones

Caroline Jones has worked in the visual arts industry for more than 15 years, as an auction house art specialist and commercial gallery manager. She currently works as an independent art consultant specialising in art valuation, research, writing, collection management and curatorial services.


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