BUSHFIRE HAZE, 1913

109 HANS HEYSEN (1877 – 1968)
BUSHFIRE HAZE, 1913
watercolour on paper
29.0 x 41.0 cm
signed and dated lower left: HANS HEYSEN 1913
inscribed lower right: TO MY WIFE
Sold for $9,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 21 - 31 August 2011, Melbourne

Provenance

The artist’s wife, Sallie Heysen, Hahndorf
Leonard Joel, Melbourne, The Heysen Collection, 19 June 1970, lot 158
Leonard Joel, Melbourne, 16 April 1986, lot 1430
George Styles Gallery, Sydney (label attached verso)
Private collection, Sydney
Company collection, Sydney

Exhibited

Historic Hahndorf, Hahndorf Academy, South Australia, 29 October 1967, cat. 8 (label attached verso)

Essay



In his biography Heysen of Hahndorf Colin Thiele describes how: ‘... a few months after [the Heysens] move to The Cedars, some of the worst bushfires had ravaged the Adelaide Hills. Hans was out on the ridges watching. There was a terrifying beauty, a vast and fearful urgency about the scene, that was unforgettable: the north wind raging in the trees, the frantic rush by farmers and their families to get sheep and cattle to safety, the scud of smoke, and the eerie evening light – copper, orange and bronze through the smoke haze and the clouds of an oncoming storm. He made a series of sketches as he watched and later developed them in the studio.’1

The drama of the event was taken up by Rebecca Andrews, writing in the catalogue of her major Heysen exhibition in 2009 (Art Gallery of South Australia and various venues): ‘On the first two days in February 1912 widespread bushfires engulfed the Adelaide Hills, stretching north to south from Norton Summit to Meadows and west to east from Cherry Gardens to Mount Barker’. These were described as the worst fires in twenty years and the newspaper, The Register, each day listed the names of those whose homes and properties had perished. The paper reported that: ‘At night Hahndorf was enveloped in dense smoke, and men were chopping down burning trees to minimise the dangers of blazing debris flying into adjacent scrub land’.

Rebecca Andrews notes that: ‘[Heysen] donated the well-known Approaching Storm with Bushfire Haze (1912) to the Art Gallery in South Australia in 1944, describing it as a study for a larger canvas ‘which never eventuated’.2

Bush Fire haze is a more personal record. Being inscribed by the artist: ‘To my wife’ it is clearly intended as a memento of the event which dramatically impinged on their lives. The loving relationship between Hans and Sallie Heysen has been widely documented. The letters of their Christian names are still entwined on the exterior walls of their home, The Cedars at Hahndorf.

1. Thiele, C., Heysen of Hahndorf, Rigby Limited, Adelaide, 1968, p. 155
2. Andrews, R., Hans Heysen, Adelaide, Art Gallery of South Australia, 2008