Nora Heysen (1911 – 2003)               – War Artist

A little more poetic licence……..

Nora Heysen, daughter of the landscape artist, Hans Heysen, was born in Adelaide in 1911. She studied at the school of Fine Arts in Adelaide and, in 1934, travelled to London where she studied for two years at the Central School of Art. 

Upon returning to Australia, she became the first woman to win the prestigious Archibald Prize for portraiture in 1938. This win did create some controversy with painter Max Meldrum stating ” If I were a woman, I would certainly prefer raising a healthy family to a career in art. …. A great artist has to tread a lonely road. He needs all the manly qualities — courage, strength and endurance… I believe that such a life is unnatural and impossible for a woman.”

However, this win did help in Heysen’s appointment as Australia’s first official female war artist where her initial task was to paint studio portraits of the commanding officers of the women’s auxiliary services. In 1944 she travelled to New Guinea to record the work Australian nurses  became frustrated by her inability to travel to the front because of the danger and the lack of facilities for women.

Upon her return to Australia she focused on capturing the activities of the nurses in Qld who served in the RAAF on evacuation flights. All up she completed nearly 170 paintings during this period, though in later years after her divorce she led a rather solitary life.

To this day Nora’s portraits are hanging in Galleries across the country as well as the Australian War Memorial.


1933: Melrose Prize for Portraiture
1938: Archibald Prize for her portrait of Adine Michele Elink Schuurman
1993: Australia Council Award for Achievement in the Arts
1998: Order of Australia (AM) for services to art.

Celebrating the women from our past to the present who have helped shape Australia.

17 thoughts on “Nora Heysen (1911 – 2003)               – War Artist

    1. Finny, isn’t it, how some art makes us want to seek more? I was at a talk last week for ANZAC Day ( our soldiers memorial day) and Learned about an artist I’de never heard of before : Hilda Rix, another war artist. I’ve been down the rabbit hole ever since looking at her story.
      Have a beaut day 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’ve known about her father, Hans Heyson, for years. When I was younger, we regularly went to Hahndorf, were the Heyson family had lived for a while (so I heard about her father because of that). Glad to have found out more about his talented family. 👍


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