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Nora Heysen: A Portrait

Written by Anne-Louise Willoughby


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The life of artist Nora Heysen was defined by an all-consuming drive to draw or paint. The first woman to win the Archibald Prize, and Australia’s first female painter to be appointed an official war artist, Heysen’s post-war portraiture and still lifes sustained a lifelong career.
In 1989, aged 78, after years of artistic obscurity, she re-emerged on the Australian art scene, and the nation’s major art institutions restored her position as a significant Australian artist.
Extensively researched, and containing artworks and photographs from the life of Nora Heysen, this story of a driven, optimistic and resilient painter is a celebration of that restoration.


‘In this exemplary biography, a tender and complex portrait emerges of a tough and vulnerable artist – as all women artists must be.’ Janine Burke

'This is an interesting book about a woman who spent her youth in a bountiful environment, submersed in the arts under her father’s guidance and then extricated herself from the family to do her own thing ... She lived unconventionally, honestly and openly. Her feelings about art spilled into her philosophy about life.' Queensland Reviewers Collective

'With unprecedented access to the archives, family and friends of Heysen, the author takes us into her world – from young portraitist and flower painter working alongside her famous father, landscape painter Hans Heysen, to art school in London and an establishment that did not or would not fully recognise her talent.' Sunraysia Daily (Mildura)

'Clarity, drive and focus are the hallmarks of both the subject and author of this excellent biography of Nora Heysen. Anne-Louise Willoughby has presented a superbly researched and thoroughly readable work ... Carefully linked with social and political history, interspersed with moments of comedy, Willoughby’s book provides a window and lasting record of a valuable life.' Writing WA

'Willoughby skilfully explores Heysen’s complicated life and what stopped the artist from achieving the recognition and status she deserved for so long ... Go read Nora Heysen: A Portrait.' Sydney Morning Herald

'In the context of this artworld stasis, these two recent engagements with Nora Heysen  Willoughby's biography and the Hans and Nora Heysen exhibition  have shifted the norms and probed beneath the expected cliches of the surface to examine the underlying drivers of how women's careers played out in the Australian artworld of the relatively recent past.' Sheila Foundation

'… what materialises is the story of a woman who was able to pursue with originality and depth, a career that she determined.' Journal of the Historical Society of South Australia

ISBN 9781925815207 (Paperback)
Formats C Format (230 x 152mm) (Paperback)
Categories Non Fiction
Art & Photography
Book Club Reads
Books for History Teachers
Gift Ideas
Great Big Book Read Books
Mother's Day 2021
Autobiography, Biography & Memoir
Publisher Fremantle Press
Edition 1st
Publication Year 2019
Pages 384
  • Anne louise willoughby web size

    Anne-Louise Willoughby

    Anne-Louise Willoughby worked as a journalist in a career that spanned thirty years in Western Australia, first training as a newspaper cadet in the 1970s before moving to magazine publishing with Australian Consolidated Press. As a freelance journalist, she was a feature writer for Australian newspapers and contributing WA editor to Belle Magazine. Anne-Louise has worked as a lecturer and tutor in creative writing at the University of Western Australia with a particular interest in memoir and biography. She lives in Fremantle, Western Australia.  Read more