The Flinders Ranges and Hans Heysen

When you travel into the Flinders Ranges you are immediately struck by how ancient the land is. You can see this clearly in the magnificent Brachina Gorge. Here you follow an 8 kilometre track through the Heysen Range, wandering past old, old cliffs, through dry creek beds and around magnificent river red gums. Along the way are plaques that mark the geological journey that you are on. 640 million years! (It is also the place where you can see the yellow footed rock wallabies…..but that is for another time.)


Hans Heysen, famous for his paintings of gum trees, went to the Flinders Ranges in 1926. They became the focus of his art for quite a few years. In a letter to Lionel Lindsay he writes his impressions “of vastness and age, a very, very old country….you see the bare bones of the landscape.” He wanted his paintings to show the earth frozen in time, to capture those bare bones — weathered ridges and tilted cliff faces.

Heysen was a painter of light, as well as time. He was one of the early painters to explore the nature of light in Australia and understood that it was different to European light. He captured its clarity by painting these craggy mountains as though there was no ‘veil of atmosphere’ between him and them.

To do that he needed to alter his palette to warmer and stronger blues for the skies and rich purples and earth tones for the land. Watercolour allowed him to capture the vibrancy of shadows and the luminosity of the light.

The Heysen Range has been named after him. (By the way, Heysen’s daughter Nora was an excellent artist in her own right and was the first official female war artist.)


About anne54

Botanic artist
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9 Responses to The Flinders Ranges and Hans Heysen

  1. Pingback: The yellow footed rock wallaby in the Flinders Ranges | Anne Lawson

  2. james says:

    That’s a very interesting mention of Hans Heysen and how the quality of light varies from place to place. I hadn’t though of that in relation to art (perhaps because I had been using less and less color in my drawings) although it’s very true when one thinks of photography and how important light (quality, amount, time, etc.) is to that endeavor.


    • anneb54 says:

      I think early Australian artists may have been more aware of the quality of light as they made a break with blindly following European traditions. Heysen, Arthur Streeton and others of the Heidelburg School painted the Australian landscape and so had to come to terms with the different quality of light here. Something to investigate…..Thanks for making me think James!


  3. james says:

    I just checked out that Hans Heysen website that you were linking to in your blog posting. He’s really an amazing watercolorist. He takes what could be thought of as desolate surroundings and uses the colors, albeit muted, in such a fantastic way that really breathes life into his works.


    • anneb54 says:

      I also like how he deliberately left out the parts of the scene (such as much of the vegetation) that didn’t fit with his original concept of painting time. I find that I can get very bogged down with adding in everything that is there — making an accurate picture rather than one that captures the true essence of what I am viewing.

      …..and yes his colours are wonderful!


      • james says:

        And that’s so interesting that Nora Heysen followed in her father’s footsteps… I liked how you linked to her bio!


      • james says:

        Yes, that’s a really good point about deciding what to leave out. Art must be abstracted, sometimes out of necessity, but it also needs to be abstracted as part of the creative decision making process.


  4. gpcox says:

    Excellent photos, great blog going here.


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