Ivor Hele - the heroic figure

  • Exhibition time
  • Exhibition location
    Located on the Ground Level


Walking wounded, Missim Trail
Medical air evacuation
Impup of Bankora
Giving wounded Japanese prisoner water
German prisoners getting daily ration of water at Mersa Matruh
Cleaning guns on jets
Central Square, Tobruk
Australian troops disembarking at Alexandria after the evacuation of Greece



Ivor Hele


Ivor Hele: the heroic figure is a tribute to the Memorial’s longest serving official war artist, Ivor Hele (1912-93). The exhibition centres on the work undertaken by Hele in North Africa and New Guinea during the Second World War and subsequently during the Korean War. From almost 500 paintings, drawings and sketchbooks a selection of sixty-one works of art has been made to display Hele’s superb skills as a draughtsman and accomplished artist.

Hele’s solid academic training in life drawing, figure studies and portraiture, acquired as a student in Paris and Munich, prepared him for the rigours of recording life on the front line during war. In the difficult conditions that he confronted, the artist persistently and faithfully captured the many activities of the Australian servicemen.

Hele enlisted in the Army to assist his appointment as an official war artist and was seconded from the AIF while serving in the Middle East in 1941. Hele amassed an extensive folio of drawings as an official war artist that became the basis for his paintings after he returned to Australia. Included in the exhibition are a selection of these studies, as well as paintings that he completed in the privacy of his studio in Aldinga, South Australia.

Hele left a magnificent legacy of art that commemorates the experiences of Australian servicemen as they faced the horrors of war. Hele’s drawings, which were frequently completed on the spot, are vigorous and powerful, showing both the physical endurance of the men and their quieter, more reflective moments. Many of Hele’s works are now emblematic images that have come to exemplify the Australian experience of war.

This education package is intended to give an insight into some of the key works of art in Ivor Hele: the heroic figure. Emphasis has been placed on Hele’s artistic achievements, and comparisons have been made with other artists in order to highlight and explore the style and techniques that he employed. The material aims to look beyond the subject matter of Hele’s work and place his achievements within a historical art context.

The education package consists of:

  • an introduction to the exhibition
  • a focus on selected works with full-colour reproductions
  • questions and activities designed to explore and investigate the images
  • important dates
  • selected bibliography

Many of the questions and the practical activities may form the basis of extension projects in the classroom.

Artists and art movements to explore:

  • Old masters:
    Rembrandt van Rijn
    (Dutch 1606-69),
    Michelangelo (Italian 1475-1564),
    Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish 1577-1640)
  • Social caricature or commentary:
    Honoré Daumier (French 1808-79),
    Francisco Goya (Spanish 1746-1828),
    William Dobell (Australian 1899-1970)
  • Romanticism:
    Eugène Delacroix
    (French 1798-1863),
    Théodore Géricault (French 1791-1824)
  • Impressionism:
    Claude Monet
    (French 1840-1926)
  • Academic:
    George Lambert
    (Australian 1873-1930)

The education activities have been designed to achieve the objectives of the ‘National Profiles ’ adopted by Australian departments of education in 1994. They can be used by individual students or groups ith or without teacher direction, during or after a visit to the exhibition.

Written by Barbara Poliness, with assistance from Lola Wilkins, Senior Curator of Art and Tina Mattei, Curatorial Assistant, Australian War Memorial.

Produced by Australian War Memorial, 1997.