National Library of Australia

You must be logged in to Tag Records
Nora Heysen interviewed by Heather Rusden [sound recording]
Bib ID 404432
Format AudioAudio, OnlineOnline [sound recording]
Heysen, Nora, 1911-2003, Interviewee
Online Versions
Access Conditions Access open for research, personal copies and public use. 
Description 1994 
2 digital audio tapes (ca. 115 min.) 

Nora Heysen discusses her rural childhood; her artistic pre-eminence over her siblings; attending a convent school in Mt Barker, South Australia; her family's lack of interest in organised religion; her family’s focus on art; music and dance; studying at the Adelaide School of Art; studying in London; her parents’ support of her art studies; aesthetic theory; comparisons between her and her father’s work; family dynamics; attitudes towards women painters; taking up portraiture; moving to Sydney (1938); differences between the Melbourne and Sydney art movements; the process of portraiture; winning the Archibald Prize (1938); securing portrait commissions; the advantages of commissioned work; her feelings about motherhood.

Heysen discusses being appointed as an official war artist (1943); New Guinea and her official instructions there; her working conditions; insubordination; illness and recall to Australia; official complaints about her work; love and marriage (1953); settling in Hunter’s Hill, Sydney; pets and animals; caring for her husband; women’s nurturing and domestic roles; travelling in the tropics; her artistic output during this period; her marriage’s end; the value of emotional experiences to an artist’s work; the burden of having a famous family name; her lifetime achievements and artistic reputation; her father’s death; temperamental inheritances from her parents; artistic influences; her materials and palettes; the most important elements of painting; Impressionism and Post-Impressionism; art as an escape; eyesight problems; particular aesthetic challenges; friends; old age; independence; domestic routine; the difficulties and rewards of an artist’s life; smoking; her regrets at not learning German as a child.


Nora Heysen, a painter and daughter of famed Australian landscape artist, Hans Heysen, the only one of his eight children to become an artist. She spent her childhood near Adelaide painting and drawing often in the company of her father. In 1931 at age 20 she began exhibiting her works in three State galleries and then undertook further training in London for the next four years. In 1939 having moved back to Australia and living in Sydney, she became the first woman artist to win the Archibald Prize. During the Second World War (1939-1945), Nora was appointed the first female war artist serving in New Guinea and Northern Australia.


Recorded on Aug. 25, 1994 in Hunter's Hill, N.S.W.

Also available online

Index/Finding Aid Note Timed summary (6 p.) and corrected transcript (typescript, 42 leaves) available. 
Subjects Heysen, Nora, 1911- 2003 -- Interviews.  |  Painters -- Australia -- Interviews.  |  Women painters -- Australia -- Interviews.  |  Painting, Australian -- 20th century.
Other authors/contributors Rusden, Heather, 1948-, Interviewer

In the Library

Request this item to view in the Library's reading rooms using your library card. To learn more about how to request items watch this short online video Help Video.

Details Collect From
Copy: Recording
Special Collections Reading Room
ORAL TRC 3121 (transcript)
Copy: Transcript
Special Collections Reading Room
ORAL TRC 3121 (summary)
Copy: Summary
Special Collections Reading Room

Order a copy

- Copyright or permission restrictions may apply. We will contact you if necessary.

Help Video To learn more about Copies Direct watch this short online video Help Video.
close Can I borrow items from the Library?

You need Flash player 8+ and JavaScript enabled to view this video embedded.

You can view this on the NLA website.

close What can I get online?

You need Flash player 8+ and JavaScript enabled to view this video embedded.

You can view this on the NLA website.

close Can I get copies of items from the Library?

You need Flash player 8+ and JavaScript enabled to view this video embedded.

You can view this on the NLA website.

Members of Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Maori communities are advised that this catalogue contains names and images of deceased people. All users of the catalogue should also be aware that certain words, terms or descriptions may be culturally sensitive and may be considered inappropriate today, but may have reflected the author's/creator's attitude or that of the period in which they were written.