Ivor Hele

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Sir Ivor Henry Thomas Hele, CBE (13 June 1912 – 2 December 1993) was an Australian artist noted for portraiture. He was Australia's longest serving war artist[1] and completed more commissioned works than any other in the history of Australian art.


Hele was born in Edwardstown, South Australia, the youngest of four children of Arthur Hele and his wife Ethel May Hele, née Thomas, later moving to 13 Brown Street (now part of Morphett Street), Adelaide. He attended Westbourne Park Primary School for a short time, then Prince Alfred College, where at age eight he began art classes under James Ashton, the drawing master.[2] In 1923 his painting "The Bedouin" was a prize winner at a London exhibition.[3] In 1924 he started studies at the South Australian School of Arts and Crafts under Miss M. Kelly and completed his first year with honours.[2] He was awarded three first class certificates at the Royal Drawing Society's Art Exhibition in 1924, and Princess Louise's Prize at their exhibition the following year. In 1926 he was admitted to the South Australian Society of Arts, their youngest member. Apart from his art studies (three nights a week and on Saturdays), he had a normal boy's interest in sport, and satisfactory academic results.[2]

Ivor Hele (2nd from left) and friends in Bavaria c. 1928

In 1927, encouraged by his tutor Marie Tuck (1866–1947), the 15-year-old Ivor sailed to Europe, where he studied drawing and painting for six months at the academy run by Louis-François Biloul (1874–1947) in Paris, and another six months at the summer school run by Moritz Heymann (de) (1870–1937) at Reichersbeuern, Bad Tölz-Wolfratshausen in the Bavaria Alps.[4] He returned to Australia early in 1930.[5] He was to return to Paris and Bavaria three years later, as a married man.[6]

At age 20 Hele married Jean Berry, a prominent women's basketball player and official.[7] They renovated the isolated and rambling Hotel Aldinga on the Old Coach Road, abandoned after construction of the Main South Road and the population centre of Aldinga moving to the seaside.[8]

In 1936 his painting The Proclamation won first prize in a competition to mark the Centenary of South Australia.[9]

In 1938 a major work, Sturt's Reluctant Decision to Return won the Commonwealth sesquicentenary prize of 250 guineas[10] (perhaps AUD 20,000 in today's[when?] money). The picture was purchased by the Government for the future National Gallery of Australia,[11] but is rather to be found at the Art Gallery of South Australia.

Encouraged by Thomas Blamey, who had been impressed by the Sturt painting and with a promise of support for his artistic career, Hele enlisted as a private soldier in the 2nd AIF and in June 1940 sailed for the Middle East with the 2/48th Battalion, 9th Australian Division. On 9 January 1941 Blamey met him personally; he was promoted to lieutenant with responsibilities as a war artist, given a truck and batman-driver and instructed to join the 6th Division in its push to Tobruk. Around June 1941 he joined the Military History and Information Section of the AIF, under John Treloar, which had a studio in Heliopolis, which he shared with Lyndon Dadswell and John Dowie.[12] He was appointed an official War Artist on 11 October 1941 with the rank of Captain. He returned to Australia with the 6th and 7th Divisions and by April was back at Aldinga, and started on his ambitious series of paintings based on his extensive portfolio of sketches and paintings, many of which had in transit been accidentally ruined. Treloar, impatient with Hele's progress called on Louis McCubbin, director of the Art Gallery of South Australia, to investigate; McCubbin expressed his satisfaction and Treloar was mollified.[12]

He remained with the 9th Division, which was later transferred to New Guinea. After the war he returned to Aldinga, where from his extensive portfolio of sketches, he executed many of the paintings which are held by the Australian War Memorial. In 1952 he was appointed as a war artist to the Australian forces in Korea.[13]

Apart from the figure studies and war scenes held by the Australian War Memorial for which he is best known, and the many portraits, Ivor Hele painted many landscapes, particularly of the rugged South Australian coast, and a great number of erotic drawings. The National Gallery of Australia holds around 130 of his works, mostly minor pieces, and the Art Gallery of South Australia a few dozen. His work was occasionally seen at The Advertiser's open-air art exhibitions, and very few one-man shows: in 1943, 1945,[14] 1954 and finally 1970 at the John Martin's auditorium during the Festival of Arts.[15]

Some notable works[edit]

Archibald Prize[edit]

He won Australia's most prestigious portrait prize, the Archibald Prize five times, for these works in the following years:

Melrose Prize[edit]

He won the Melrose Prize (awarded by the Royal South Australian Society of Arts for the Art Gallery of South Australia) three times:

  • 1935 - James Ferries Esq. (other portraits by him were of H. E. Fuller and Dr. Fenner).[20]
  • 1936 -
  • 1939 -


Ivor Hele was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1954.[21] This was upgraded to Commander (CBE) status in 1969.[22]

In the New Year's Honours of 1983 he was named a Knight Bachelor for his services to art.[23]


A bronze bust of Hele by his niece Marcia Rankin, based on a photograph by C. T. Halmarick, is held by the Australian War Memorial.[24]


Hele had an older brother, Harold A. Hele (23 April 1908 – 19 December 1941), and twin sisters, Beryl, who married Alf Head on 4 October 1930, and Phyllis Hele, who married Jack Dew Laurenti on 3 March 1937. A niece, sculptor Marcia Rankin, inherited Hele's sketchbooks, which she presented to the Australian War Memorial.

He married Jean Berry around 1932. They divorced in 1957 and he married June Weatherly.

Hele was severely self-critical and only ever held two exhibitions of his work, in 1931 and 1958. He was a perfectionist who often burned paintings he was dissatisfied with.[12]


  1. ^ "Ivor Hele - the heroic figure". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 2 December 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c "Genius of Ivor Hele". News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 - 1954). Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia. 18 December 1926. p. 7 Edition: Sporting. Retrieved 2 December 2015. 
  3. ^ "The Final Flutter". The Victor Harbor Times and Encounter Bay and Lower Murray Pilot (SA : 1912 - 1930). SA: National Library of Australia. 5 October 1923. p. 6. Retrieved 2 December 2015. 
  4. ^ "Description accompanying photograph P02473.004". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 3 December 2015. 
  5. ^ Hylton, Jane The Productive Artist 2002 Wakefield Press, Adelaide ISBN 9781862544901
  6. ^ "Artist and Wife Back from Munich". The Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1912 - 1954). Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia. 14 January 1933. p. 5. Retrieved 2 December 2015. 
  7. ^ "Women's Electric Light Basketball". The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 - 1954). Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia. 24 April 1939. p. 7. Retrieved 2 December 2015. 
  8. ^ "Artist Finds Ideal Home In Country Retreat.". The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 - 1954). Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia. 4 June 1938. p. 11. Retrieved 2 December 2015. 
  9. ^ "S.A. Digger To Be Official War Artist". News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 - 1954). Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia. 21 January 1941. p. 5. Retrieved 3 December 2015. 
  10. ^ "Big Sydney Art Prize To Adelaide Painter". News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 - 1954). Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia. 13 January 1938. p. 6. Retrieved 3 December 2015. 
  11. ^ "Ivor Hele Picture Bought By Commonwealth.". The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 - 1954). Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia. 5 July 1938. p. 18. Retrieved 3 December 2015. 
  12. ^ a b c Lola Wilkins. "Artist in the aftermath". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 3 December 2015. 
  13. ^ McCulloch, Alan, Encyclopedia of Australian Art Hutchinson of London, 1968
  14. ^ a b "War Artist Has To Work Fast". News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 - 1954). Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia. 18 August 1945. p. 2. Retrieved 3 December 2015. 
  15. ^ "Ivor Hele". National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 3 December 2015. 
  16. ^ Judith Raftery, 'McEwin, Sir Alexander Lyell (1897–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mcewin-sir-alexander-lyell-15104/text26305, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 21 November 2014.
  17. ^ . Government of South Australia http://www.carrickhill.sa.gov.au/the-story/artworks/australian-artists/ivor-hele. Retrieved 2 December 2015.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  18. ^ "S.A. Artist Wins Archibald Prize". The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 - 1954). Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia. 26 January 1952. p. 3. Retrieved 4 December 2015. 
  19. ^ "Laurie Thomas". State Library of New South Wales. Retrieved 3 December 2015. 
  20. ^ "Fine Portraits to be Shown". News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 - 1954). Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia. 25 September 1935. p. 3. Retrieved 4 December 2015. 
  21. ^ It's an Honour: OBE; Retrieved 10 August 2013
  22. ^ It's an Honour: CBE: Retrieved 10 August 2013
  23. ^ It's an Honour: Knight Bachelor: Retrieved 10 August 2013
  24. ^ "Portrait of the artist's uncle". Australian War Memorial. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
William Dargie
Archibald Prize
for Laurie Thomas
Succeeded by
William Dargie
Preceded by
William Dargie
Archibald Prize
for Sir Henry Simpson Newland, C.B.E., D.S.O., M.S., F.R.C.S.
for Rt. Hon. R. G. Menzies, P.C., C.H., Q.C., M.P.
for Robert Campbell Esq.
Succeeded by
William Dargie
Preceded by
William Dargie
Archibald Prize
for Self Portrait
Succeeded by
William Edwin Pidgeon