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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.

Self portrait

1934
Nora Heysen AM

oil on canvas (frame: 60.8 cm x 53.5 cm, support: 43.1 cm x 36.3 cm)

Nora Heysen AM (1911–2003) was one of Australia’s most accomplished portrait artists. One of the eight children of landscape painter Sir Hans Heysen and his wife Selma (herself a talented artist), Heysen was encouraged to paint and draw from an early age. At fifteen, she enrolled at the School of Fine Arts in Adelaide, receiving there what she later remembered as an uninspiring and rigid brand of tuition. While still a student, she exhibited with the Society of Artists in Sydney and had examples of her work purchased by the state galleries of New South Wales and South Australia. She had her first solo exhibition, aged twenty- two, in 1933, by which stage she had demonstrated her remarkable skill as a portraitist. Heysen stated in 1994: ‘I wanted at that time to get away from my father’s subject matter. I turned to painting faces and painting myself… to get right away’ and to establish a sense of independence as an artist. She went to London in 1934, studying at the Central School of Art and the Byam Shaw School before returning to Australia. She moved to Sydney in 1938 and in that year won the Archibald Prize – the first woman to do so – with her portrait of Madam Elink Schuurman, the wife of a Dutch diplomat. In 1943 she became the first woman appointed to work as an official war artist, serving as Captain Heysen in New Guinea and Borneo, where she was sent to record the activities of servicewomen. While in New Guinea she met Dr Robert Black, whom she married in Sydney in 1953. The following year they purchased a house called The Chalet in the Sydney suburb of Hunters Hill, which was Heysen’s home for the remainder of her life. Heysen was in her seventies when the first retrospective exhibition of her work was held in South Australia; several similar exhibitions followed, including a major survey presented by the National Library of Australia in 2000–01.

This is one of a number of self portraits Heysen made in the early 1930s, but it is unusual amongst works from that period in its close-up, front-on perspective and minimal background. The portrait was in Heysen’s private collection until being purchased by the National Portrait Gallery in 1999.

Purchased 1999
© Lou Klepac

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Nora Heysen AM (age 23 in 1934)

Subject professions

Visual arts and crafts

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Self portrait
Self portrait
Self portrait
Self portrait

In good company

Magazine article by Joanna Gilmour, 2015

Jean Appleton’s 1965 self portrait makes a fine addition to the National Portrait Gallery’s collection writes Joanna Gilmour.

Self Portrait, 1963–64
Self Portrait, 1963–64
Self Portrait, 1963–64
Self Portrait, 1963–64

What price self?

Magazine article by Jane Raffan, 2013

Jane Raffan investigates auction sales of self portraits nationally and internationally.

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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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