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Australian art

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Drought sheep



Hans Heysen

Germany, Australia, France

08 Oct 1877 - 02 Jul 1968


During his lifetime Hans Heysen was one of the most accomplished and publicly acclaimed painters of the Australian landscape. He was equally a master of oil paint and watercolour, as well as a formidable draughtsman in pencil and charcoal. The landscape 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’ underwent gradual development, indicated by the date Heysen put on the work (1916-21) and a preliminary drawing ‘Travelling sheep’ c1916, now also in the Art Gallery of NSW collection. The preliminary drawing is half the size of ‘Drought sheep’ and has an additional sheep in the bottom left foreground. Heysen removed it in the watercolour, strengthening the overall compositional movement to the right. In both drawing and watercolour, muscle, bone and sinew are suggested in the movements of each sheep.

This evocative watercolour was produced around the time of the First World War when Heysen’s loyalty to Australia, like many others of German birth or background, was unfairly questioned. As well as capturing the conditions that accompany severe drought, it may reveal something of the artist, suggesting his anxiety at the time. A flock of parched sheep moves across a hot and dusty track under an overarching sky with clouds in magnificent ferment but without the promise of rain. Featureless and treeless, it is an unusual work for an artist whose paintings of grand eucalypt forests came to epitomise heroic Australian landscape painting in the interwar decades.

Heysen won the Wynne Prize for landscape an unprecedented nine times between 1904 and 1932, boosting his early reputation and the popularity of his work. He was knighted in 1959.





Media category


Materials used

pencil, watercolour on paper


57.6 x 79.0 cm sheet; 87.9 x 108.4 x 3.4 cm frame

Signature & date

Signed and dated l.l. corner, "HANS HEYSEN 1916/21".


Purchased 1950


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Hans Heysen

Works in the collection


Shown in 11 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 9 publications


Rebecca Andrews, Hans Heysen, Adelaide, 2008, 133 (colour illus.).

Jane de Teliga, Australian images: Prints, drawings and watercolours from the collection, Sydney, 1979, 6.

Lou Klepac, Parallel visions: works from the Australian collection, 'Hans Heysen / Elioth Gruner / Horace Trenerry', pg. 32-47, Sydney, 2002, 36 (colour illus.), 143, 147.

Hendrik Kolenberg, Animals on paper - from the Australian collection of prints, drawings and watercolours, Sydney, 1992. 19

Hendrik Kolenberg, Twentieth century Australian watercolours from the collection, Sydney, 1989, (illus.). 27

Hendrik Kolenberg, Australian watercolours 1880s to 1990s, Sydney, 1995, 42 (colour illus.), 118. 31

Sandra McGrath and John Olsen, The artist & the desert, Sydney, 1981, 40 (colour illus.).

Ian North, Hans Heysen centenary retrospective, 1877-1977, Adelaide, 1977, 52 (illus.).

Author Unknown, Wool in the Australian imagination, Glebe, 1994, (illus.).