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Joy Hester

Australia 1920-1960
Hester was one of the group of artists centred around John and Sunday Reed’s home, Heide, in 1940s Melbourne, as was the painter Albert Tucker, her first husband.

Hester was the only woman artist in the Angry Penguins (a group of artists and writers, including Sidney Nolan and Arthur Boyd, who sought to shake up the establishment in 1940s Australia). Her preference for pen-and ink drawing over the more highly valued medium of painting also made her unusual, as did her practice of sitting on the floor to draw, working rapidly. As a result, she was not given the recognition she deserved until relatively recently. Hester died of cancer, aged 40.

Reclining female nude (Barbara Blackman) 1955

Hester is renowned for her personal, highly expressionistic drawings using brush and ink or watercolour. She made many images of people who were important to her. The subject of this drawing is Barbara Blackman, then the wife of artist Charles Blackman.

Hester’s work has a rawness and intimacy that reveals her insight into the complexities of life. She used the characteristics of drawing (its fluidity and capacity for dense expressive line) to accentuate a sense of psychological and emotional vulnerability. Her own life was unconventional and intense, marked by illness, poverty and passion.

People and places

In 1934, arts patrons and collectors John and Sunday Reed bought a former dairy farm in Bulleen, now a Melbourne suburb. They named it Heide after the nearby township of Heidelberg, the area associated with the famous Heidelberg school group of artists. They transformed it into a home and artists retreat. Among those who lived there intermittently were Sidney Nolan, John Perceval and Danila Vassilieff as well as Joy Hester and Albert Tucker.

The property, its buildings and gardens are now a public gallery – the Heide Museum of Modern Art.