Born in Germany, Hans Heysen arrived in Australia at the age of six. He studied under James Ashton at the Norwood Art School. Later on, a patron, Robert Barr Smith, grandfather of Ursula Hayward (q. v.) paid for him to study for a year under H.P. Gill at the South Australian School of Design. After four years' study overseas, under contract to a group of Adelaide patrons, Heysen returned to Adelaide in 1903 to teach and paint, making his home at Hahndorf in 1908. Heysen and his artist friend Gustave Barnes (q. v.) often wandered around the Adelaide Hills seeking subjects for their brush.
Although concentrating initially on the subdued landscapes and genre scenes of the Mount Lofty Ranges, Heysen later portrayed the stark grandeur of the Flinders Ranges with precise realism. Working in oil, watercolour, charcoal etching, monotint and crayon, his works show superb draughtsmanship and skill in the handling of light and composition, combined with an intense awareness of form and texture.
Eleven times winner of the Wynne Prize for landscape, Heysen made watercolour sketches outdoors, developing them into finished pictures in the studio. His work, with its startling clarity, shows striking power and skill. So successful was he in taking the gum tree as the central theme for his art, that it was soon seen as the symbol of Australia, and gave rise to imitations, but not equals, by other artists. Works by Nora Heysen (q. v.), his daughter, also appear in this Australian Collection.
WHITE GUMS, 1935, was painted in the same year as the marriage of Ursula Barr Smith and Edward Hayward - possibly a wedding present from an old friend. In this thematic work, Heysen shows superb handling of the beauty of the majestic gum trees, the fresh pink and blue co louring emphasising the fullness of sunlight on an Australian summer's day. Strength and delicacy are combined with decorative qualities to create a work of great charisma.