Skip to content

Hans Heysen Drought sheep 1916–21

Hans Heysen

Germany, Australia 1877–1968
Born in Germany, Heysen migrated to Australia with his family at the age of seven. He became one of the country’s most acclaimed landscape painters, awarded the Wynne Prize an unprecedented nine times between 1904 and 1932. He was knighted in 1959.

Heysen was equally a master of oil paint and watercolour, as well as a formidable draughtsman in pencil and charcoal. The area around Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills and especially its old gums were his preferred subject matter. He was also attracted to the rugged isolation of the Flinders Ranges in South Australia.

Drought sheep 1916–21

Heysen made several journeys into the arid interior of South Australia which led to a series of remarkable drawings and paintings of the outback. This watercolour captures the hot, dusty conditions that accompany severe drought. However, it may also reveal something of the artist, suggesting his anxiety at the time. It was produced during the First World War and its aftermath – a period when Heysen’s loyalty to Australia was unfairly questioned, like many other people of German birth or background.

Featureless and treeless, it’s an unusual work for an artist whose paintings of grand eucalypt forests came to epitomise heroic Australian landscape painting in the interwar decades.

People and places

Germans settlers began arriving in Australia largely from the 1850s. Most disembarked in Port Adelaide, with many moving into agricultural industries such as dairy, wheat and viticulture in South Australia and Queensland. By 1914, there were over 100,000 Germans living here.

The outbreak of World War One led to anti-German sentiments. Nearly 7000 Germans and Austrians were placed in internment camps due to their ethnic background, while others were under constant scrutiny by police and neighbours. German schools and churches were closed, German music was banned, German-sounding places and food were renamed and many families changed their names to try to ease harassment.

Related material

Heysen produced a preliminary drawing, which is also in the Gallery’s collection.