Gum trees seem so Australian, especially to an Aussie away from home in California and other places. There are more than 400 species of eucalyptus. They are ubiquitous in the ‘classical’ genre of Australian landscape painting. South Australian artist Hans Heysen was the master painter of these majestic trees. Reproductions of his paintings were in every primary school, along with the portrait of the Queen.

Hans Heysen images

The gum tree is a motif that haunts me as a painter. I first tackled what must have been a sugar gum at high school in the country. We were taught a useful schema to represent it but it was limited. I think I can still do it! This time with digital brushes. The important thing we learned was to take little branches way up and have at least two storeys of greenery with clear horizontal gaps and visible branches. It was a useful way to make interesting trees with a little tweaking for variety.

Philippa Robert-Adelaide South Australia
sugar gum schema – from high school days

For many years I avoided painting gum trees and dismissed such paintings as cliches. I had lots of company. Most young artists in the 60s scoffed at Heysen-style gum trees and cows’ bottoms. In the last decade however, Heysen has been rediscovered and lauded as an extemely skilled painter in oil and watercolour and a master draughtsman. A major exhibition of his work at the Art Gallery of South Australia was a huge success and a timely reminder that there is a lot to admire and even more to learn.


On a recent Friday morning I chose my subject, a North Adelaide streetscape of stone cottages. To bed in my easel before starting, I turned and happened to see magical light shining through gum leaves. I knew. It was time to tackle the Gum Tree at last!

I am not sure which variety this is. A Blue perhaps?

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