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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The artist and the doctor

Nora Heysen and Robert Black’s passionate relationship bloomed against a backdrop of global conflict.

1 Robert H. Black MD, c. 1950. 2 Self portrait, 1934. Both Nora Heysen AM. © Lou Klepac.

Nora Heysen was the first woman to be appointed an official Australian War Artist, in 1943. She was deployed to New Guinea the following year, where she met Dr Robert Hughes Black, a pathologist working to prevent and treat malaria in Australian troops. The pair fell deeply in love and acted on it, creating a fraught situation as Black was married with a young son. The artist would later describe it as ‘my first love affair’. The couple finally married in 1953, immediately following Black’s divorce, and after already living together in Sydney, which scandalised Heysen’s family. The artist’s 1950 portrait of Black shows the man she adored: dignified, thoughtful and handsome, in three-quarter profile. This painting remained in Heysen’s possession for over 40 years, until she donated it to the Portrait Gallery in 1999, when the institution also purchased her 1934 self-portrait.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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