We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of NSW stands.

Natasha Bieniek Self-portrait, after Nora Heysen

oil on wood

8 x 6 cm

Natasha Bieniek’s painting is inspired by Nora Heysen’s 1932 self-portrait in the Art Gallery of New South Wales collection, which is currently on display in the 20th-century galleries.

At the time Heysen produced the work, she was best known as the daughter of celebrated landscape painter Hans Heysen. ‘But in her self-portrait, she depicts herself as an artist in her own right – a difficult pursuit for a woman at that time’, says Bieniek. ‘I was drawn to this painting for its penetrating gaze, but also because of its sense of vulnerability, which reveals great humanity.’

Heysen was the first woman to win the Archibald, in 1938, and became Australia’s first female war artist, in 1943. ‘But after these great successes, she vanished somewhat from art history for the next 40 years,’ adds Bieniek. ‘I wanted to create this painting not only as a tribute to Nora Heysen, but also to continue a conversation about the challenges women artists face today,’ she says, pointing out how few women have won the Archibald since its inception in 1921.

The winner of the 2015 Wynne Prize, Melbourne-based Bieniek is a nine-time Archibald finalist, whose portrait of Wendy Whiteley was highly commended in 2016.

A feature on the women winners of the Archibald can be seen just outside the exhibition.

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