Hans HEYSEN, Morning light Enlarge 1 /1

Hans HEYSEN

Hamburg, Germany 1877 – Mt Barker, South Australia, Australia 1968

  • Australia from 1884
  • Europe, England 1899-1903

Morning light 1913 Place made: Adelaide Hills, South Australia, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas

Primary Insc: signed and dated lower left in oil paint, 'HANS HEYSEN 1913'.
Dimensions: 118.6 h x 102.0 w cm framed (overall) 1487 h x 1318 w x 140 d mm
Acknowledgement: Ruth Robertson Bequest Fund in memory of Edwin Clive and Leila Jeanne Robertson 2011
Accession No: NGA 2011.4

Morning light shows two monumental gums before a sweeping pastoral vista. The grand old tree in the foreground was a favourite of Heysen’s. He was particularly enamoured of morning light; always up before dawn to catch the changing landscape in early sunlight, such as the effect of a cool morning depicted in Morning light. Heysen painted this work in 1913, in the decade immediately after he first acquired his now famous property, The Cedars, near Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills.

Heysen is one of Australia’s most significant landscape painters, and one of the most successful artists during his own lifetime. He so popularised the river red gum that people began to think that it was more typical than it was. By depicting this particular species he made it universal.

It is extraordinary that, prior to the acquisition of this work, the National Gallery of Australia held no major giant-gum-tree oil painting by Heysen from the Federation period. Moreover, it is hard to believe, given the popularity and familiarity of Heysen’s work, that Heysen painted only a handful of major oils (seven in all) on the subject of the gum during the Federation period (1900–14).

Heysen was conscious that he was creating nationalist imagery, which would give us a new way of seeing our land and inspiring us to love these great gums. That is why he gave them inspirational titles such as ‘A Lord of the Bush’ and ‘Red gold’. As Ron Radford said in the book Our country: Australian Federation landscapes 1900–1914, ‘[after Heysen,] it would be impossible to paint the gum tree without Heysen’s symbolic use resonating in memory’.

A substantial bequest by Ruth Robertson made it possible for the Gallery to purchase this painting. Funds from this bequest will also go toward future acquisitions of early twentieth-century Australian painting.

Anne Gray
Head of Australian Art


in artonview, issue 66, winter 2011

Hans Heysen is one of Australia’s most significant landscape painters, and one of the most successful artists during his own lifetime. He so popularised the river red gum that people began to think that it was more typical than it was; choosing it because of its monumental and sculptural qualities, and conveying the enduring qualities of our ancient land. By depicting this particular species he made it universal.

Morning light 1913 is a major Federation, monumental gum tree painting. Heysen painted it in the decade immediately after he first acquired his now famous property, The Cedars, near Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills. With the purchase of this property Heysen secured not only a home for his growing family, but also a purpose-built studio and, importantly, a property in which the gums and landscape provided endless subject matter for his art. He said in 1914 that ‘[t]he beauty of the gum is a quiet beauty … It is a poet’s tree, a painter’s tree …’ Later he described viewing their towering white forms against the blue sky as both exhilarating and mysterious.

In Morning light, Heysen depicted two grand, embracing gums against a sweeping sunlit pastoral vista. Heysen was particularly enamoured of morning light. He was always up before dawn in order to catch the changing landscape in early sunlight. In Morning light he captured the effect of a cool morning with a masterful use of colour, crisp forms and an astute observation of the light and shadow of early morning.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014

South Australian artist Hans Heysen is one of last century's most-loved Australian landscape painters. He was an early conservationist and a passionate advocate of the intrinsic beauty of the Australian bush frequently painting the majestic grandeur of Australian gum trees bathed in light. Upon his return from Europe in 1903 he was struck afresh by the quality of Australian sunlight and he immediately immersed himself in the landscape of the Adelaide Hills. Heysen depicted the heroic, gnarled trunks of mature river red gums, elevating the gum tree as a symbol of Australia. Inherent in his celebration of the gum tree was Heysen's concern for the increasing deforestation of the land, which he witnessed around his bush home in Hahndorf.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra