Good old gum trees

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.

sugar gum motif

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?


8 thoughts on “Good old gum trees

  1. Such an odd timing for me to read this, almost like a “transference of aversion” from one person to another! The day you published this, close friends who live in QLD sent me photographs of a very large gum tree that had crashed onto their property and fence in a bad storm! Despite my story here, this is a lovely painting Philippa – and such timing too! I do wonder if we have this variety of tree here in the U.S. – as it’s not called by the ‘gum tree’ name? Hope you are doing well!

    1. Hi Patricia, great to hear from you. Eucalypts are beautiful but prone to crack and drop branches spontaneously, particularly in dry weather. I am guessing your Queensland friends were devastated by the results more of storm than drought? Freak accidents occur with gums (Eucalypts) on golf courses or roads. The rule is never to camp under one for that reason. They are renowned for providing poor shade because their leaves hang down rather than spread in horizontal planes. Probably a protective measure in hot climate. Lots of gums in Ca, especially at Palo Alto campus of ?UC. Not sure what type they were. Now they are turning up in pots in UK gardens!

    1. Thanks John! I find myself turning to the land and the tree these days. I am overturning a few of my (art) prejudices on the way to 70! The other prejudices are probably so deep I am kidding myself about them. My latest idea for sharing posts is to post on both sites fairly similarly, unless you would like to subscribe from where there is a give-away of my ebook at the moment. (! as they say).

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