Hans Heysen ? Glancing through a stack of dusty framed prints in an op shop, one of gum trees stood out and seemed to be the work of the South Australian artist Hans Heysen of Hahndorf . On examination , however, it proved to be by Robert Johnson , dated 1956. Johnson did paintings of Central Australia and there is a brochure of his in the Little Darwin Art Collection . At a mere nine dollars it had to be bought and taken to No. 1 daughter's residence in Townsville , where we were staying for the romantic Valentine Day's weekend , because of the beaut annual church fete at Rising Sun which offers many books and the monthly Old Wares Fair held at Mundingburra State School.
One of the books bought at the church fete was a weathered paperback copy of the Pelican 1970 revised edition of The Art of Australia , by the late Robert Hughes , in which Kiwi artist Johnson is mentioned in passing in relation to Heysen , in a most unflattering , but typically entertaining way.
After providing biographical details of Heysen (born Hamburg 1877, came to SA with parents, studied Paris ), Hughes said the artist produced so many paintings of typical Australian scenes that for many years "no Australian business was quite solid unless it had a Heysen in its boardroom."
Heysen, Hughes continued, made his pictures teem with facts about landscape and his paintings of eucalypts were excellent though " a whit redundant." The grassy hills and Central Australian rocks had merit as topography, but the only deficency in the art was that it had no imagination...suavely valueless .
Heysen's style , Hughes wrote, had inspired a team of "Heysenettes "-described as " a dilapidated and creaky chorus line, bumping and grinding along in their blue and gold costume ."And one artist he named in the chorus line was Robert Johnson . This ossified art form was so standardised that "given the right tubes of Reckitt's blue, yellow ochre and flake white , a small computer could be programmed to produce it ."This cutting summary,to my way of quirky thinking, elevated the print to a priceless treasure.
It must be pointed out that Johnson , born Auckland 1890, arrived in Sydney in 1921 and became known for paintings of Sydney Harbour and landscapes. One of his many commissions was from the Commonwealth Government to paint a picture of Canberra for a new gallery at Wellington , New Zealand , in 1936; he died at Sydney in 1964.