Joy Hester

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Joy St Clair Hester (21 August 1920 – 4 December 1960) was an Australian artist who played an important, though sometimes underrated, role in the development of Australian modernism.

Hester was born in Elsternwick. She studied art from an early age, and at 17 was enrolled in Commercial Art at Brighton Technical School. She then attended the National Gallery School in Melbourne.[1]

Heide period[edit]

Hester met Albert Tucker in 1937, whom she began to live with intermittently in 1938 in East Melbourne, and whom she married in 1941.[2] Hester was a contemporary of Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, Charles Blackman, John Perceval, and Laurence Hope. She helped to establish the Contemporary Art Society (CAS) and was the only female painter in the modernist movement, the Angry Penguins. Hester and Tucker had a son, Sweeney Reed (1944–1979).

In 1947, when Sweeney was three, Hester was diagnosed with terminal Hodgkin's lymphoma. Believing she had only 2 years to live, she decided to move to Sydney to live with Melbourne artist Gray Smith, gave her son into the care of John Reed and Sunday Reed, the influential, Melbourne-based art patrons, who subsequently adopted him.[1] It emerged many years later that Tucker was not Sweeney's biological father, and that he was probably the son of Melbourne jazz drummer Billy Hyde, with whom Hester had had a brief affair. Sweeney Reed committed suicide in 1979.

Return to Melbourne[edit]

The illness impacted heavily on Hester's work and left an indelible mark on it, loaded with emotional content. Hester and Gray moved to rural Hurstbridge in 1948 and later lived at Avonsleigh and Upwey in the Dandenong Ranges. She married Gray in 1959. They had two children, Fern and Peregrine. Hester had 3 solo exhibitions but struggled to sell work. She worked mainly in black ink and wash, using quick, spontaneous lines guided by stream of consciousness. She also wrote poetry and used her drawings to illustrate her words.


After a period of remission Hester suffered a relapse of Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1956 and died in 1960, aged 40.[1]


John and Sunday Reed organised a commemorative exhibitions of Hester's work in 1963. In 1981, Janine Burke, Hester's biographer, curated the first major retrospective at the National Gallery of Victoria.


Further reading[edit]

  • Janine Burke,Joy Hester, Melbourne: Greenhouse Publications, 1983; Sydney: Vintage, reprint 2001.
  • Michael Keon, Joy Hester: An Unsettling World, North Caulfield, Victoria: Malakoff Fine Art Press, 1993.
  • Burke, Australian Gothic: A Life of Albert Tucker, Sydney: Knopf, 2002.
  • Burke, The Heart Garden: Sunday Reed and Heide, Sydney: Knopf, 2002.
  • Burke, (ed) Dear Sun: The Letters of Joy Hester and Sunday Reed, Melbourne: William Heinemann, 1995.
  • Hart, Deborah Joy Hester and friends, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 2001.