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Nora Heysen AM

In 1938, Nora Heysen was the first woman to win the Archibald Prize for Portraiture.

Honour Roll

Nora Heysen was born in Hahndorf, a village in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia in 1911. She was the daughter of the famous Australian painter Hans Heysen, from whom she gained her early art training, as well as from her mother, also a talented artist. When she was fifteen she attended the School of Fine Arts in North Adelaide. Throughout the five years she studied there, she continued to draw with her father, particularly around Hahndorf.

In 1930, Nora exhibited with the Society of Artists in Sydney and she had works purchased by the art galleries of New South Wales and South Australia. She set up her own studio at The Cedars and began to pay a regular model for her paintings. The family then went to England in 1943 and Nora remained there to study at the Central School of Art. In 1936, she enrolled at the Byam Shaw School under Ernest Jackson. Before returning to Australia she travelled to Italy.

She moved to Sydney and in 1938 became the first woman to win the Archibald Prize for her portrait of Madame Elink Schuurman. In 1943, she was the first woman to be appointed an official war artist, commissioned to record and represent the women's war effort. In this capacity she went to New Guinea, where she met her future husband, Dr Robert Black.

After they married, in 1953, they bought a house in Sydney, the Chalet, but they also travelled to various tropical regions, including New Guinea, where Nora painted a series of works of the local people. Nora continued to travel widely, to the United States, Mexico, England, Switzerland and New Zealand. In 1993, she received the Australia Council's Award for Achievement in the Arts and in 1998 was awarded an Order of Australia (AM).