Important Australian + International Fine Art
14 September 2022


(1920 - 1960)

watercolour, ink and gouache on card

51.0 x 41.0 cm

signed upper right: Joy Hester

$25,000 – $35,000
Sold for $27,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 71 - 14 September 2022, Sydney

Private collection, Connecticut, USA 
Private collection, Florida, USA, acquired from the above in 2008

Catalogue text

Joy Hester was a central figure among the group of artists who gathered around John and Sunday Reed, the enlightened contemporary art patrons whose home, ‘Heide’, in the rural outer-Melbourne suburb of Heidelberg, offered ‘a vibrant intellectual environment and… haven of shared ideas’.1 A friend and respected peer of artists including Sidney Nolan and Albert Tucker (whom she married in 1941), Hester was a painter and poet whose work was often deeply personal, reflecting aspects of her own life, as well as describing experiences and emotions that are universal.

Hester painted primarily on paper, using brush and ink, watercolour and gouache, and she had a facility with these media that allowed her to work in a manner that appeared spontaneous and intuitive. While this focus on drawing is often explained in terms of her gender and a lifelong lack of financial means, artist and writer, Deanna Petherbridge argues an alternative case, assigning conscious agency to Hester in her approach and choice of materials. ‘The more I think about Hester’s work, the more I am convinced that its insights, pathos and power flourished out of and because of the constraints of the domesticity and Bohemian poverty of her short life as a woman artist and mother, as well as her responses to the wider crises of her time. The very choice of drawing as her main medium and form of expression… and her often-recorded habit of sketching on the floor in company as a means of unself-conscious communication, signifies a deliberately alternative pathway.’2

Images of children and of mothers and children feature in Hester’s work of the mid-1950s, years which followed the birth of her son, Peregrine, in 1951, and daughter, Fern, three years later. Major works such as Girl with Hen, 1956 (National Gallery of Australia) and Two Girls in the Street, 1957 (National Gallery of Victoria) – ambitious in scale, finish and in their use of colour – depict the playfulness and innocence of childhood. In contrast, it is the intimacy of a mother’s bond with her baby that is the focus of works like Mother and Child, 1955 (National Gallery of Australia). Two large faces fill the sheet and, like Hester’s images of lovers where figures merge and blend into one, the mother and child are connected, but also retain their individuality. In this work, probably painted around the same time, there is a sense of separation, indicative perhaps of the age of the child, a toddler who is beginning to assert some independence. Characteristically, it combines loose, expressive brushstrokes, a striking use of colour – bolder than many of Hester’s works – and continues her familiar habit of depicting faces without noses.3 For Hester, ‘art existed as an equal in a democracy of love, friendship and children’4 and as this work depicts the profound relationship between mother and child, it also presents a poignant evocation of innocence and experience.

1. Gellatly, K., Leave no space for yearning: The Art of Joy Hester, exhibition catalogue, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, 2001, p. 12
2. Petherbridge, D., ‘The Haptic Eye/I’ in Joy Hester: Remember Me, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, 2020, p. 52
3. Ibid., pp. 76-79
4. Barrett Reid quoted in Gellatly, op. cit., p. 37