Hans HEYSEN | Still life with pumpkins and onions

Germany 1877 – Australia 1968
Australia from 1884; Europe, England 1899-1903

Still life with pumpkins and onions 1922
oil on canvas
Frame 86.6 (h) x 113.5 (w) x 7.0 (d) cm
The Cedars, The Hans Heysen Estate, Hahndorf


An artist who spent a great deal of time painting and drawing out of doors, Heysen was also remarkably accomplished at still-life painting. From 1914 to 1937 he explored such subjects, which were ideal when the weather prevented him from working outside. They were also favoured for gifts. His method for still-lifes was different from landscape, in that he worked direct from the subject, without making studies. Although this category never dominated his art, he produced some spectacular paintings of flowers, fruit and vegetables, including zinnias, roses, grapes, pineapples, pomegranates, apples, quinces, pears and pumpkins. The paintings include large-scale extravagant arrangements, as well as smaller, more intimate, flower studies.

A most exceptional piece is Still life with pumpkins and onions, 1922, featuring home-grown produce from the vegetable garden at The Cedars. The pumpkins and onions, the brass pot on the left, which today still remains at The Cedars, and the glass bottle on the right constitute an arrangement of strong, solid forms. Earthy tones are evocative of the ground in which the vegetables were grown and create an appropriately rustic composition. This is further emphasised by large brushstrokes of thickly applied paint, conveying the organic nature of the subject in a rich and striking composition of convincing realism.

Rebecca Andrews

© Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2008
Andrews, Hans Heysen, exhibition book, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2008, p 84