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On display on Level 1


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

  • Australia from 1884
  • Europe, England 1899-1903

The saplings 1904 Place made: Meadows, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas

Primary Insc: signed and dated lower right in oil, ' HANS HEYSEN 1904 - 6 '
Dimensions: 120.5 h x 90.3 w framed (overall) 1475 h x 1171 w x 100 d mm ; weight 19 kg
Acknowledgement: Millie Hay Joyner Bequest 1993
Accession No: NGA 93.1194
Image rights: © Hans Heysen. Licensed by Viscopy

The saplings anticipates with youthful enthusiasm Hans Heysen’s most significant contribution to Australian painting. Through his dedicated career-long fascination with painting the South Australian river red gum, Heysen helped to elevate the gum tree as a symbol of Australia.

This work was painted in The Meadows, in the Adelaide Hills region near Hahndorf, where he settled permanently in 1908. Inherent in Heysen’s celebration of the gum tree, as in the works of a number of his contemporaries, was his concern for the increasing deforestation of the land, which he personally witnessed around his bush home. 

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2013
From: Miriam kelly, Capital & Country: The Federation Years 1900 – 1913, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2013

Migrating to South Australia in 1884, at the age of seven, Hans Heysen became one of the best known and most loved twentieth-century Australian landscape painters. He depicted many pastoral landscapes in both watercolour and oil from the Federation period to the First World War, and for some years beyond. He made the monumental Australian gum tree the special and central subject of his works.

Heysen painted The saplings around the time that he created Coming home 1904 and Mystic morn 1904—his first major Australian landscapes. He often emphasised the majestic grandeur of his trees by showing them from a low vantage point, but in The saplings he depicted a thicket of slender saplings looked down on from above. He captured the rough texture of peeling bark and showed a path leading into the landscape, past the gum trees, towards a sunny grassed area beyond.

After moving to Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills in 1908 Heysen’s paintings became as much about light as about characteristic Australian trees. In the 1920s he revitalised his painting during his many trips to the rocky arid region of the central Flinders Ranges.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008