Monday, February 16, 2015


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.