The Heide Story

Heide Museum of Modern Art began life in 1934 as the home of John and Sunday Reed and has since evolved into one of Australia's most important cultural institutions.

Soon after purchasing the fifteen acre property on which Heide stands in 1934, founders John and Sunday Reed opened their home to like-minded individuals such as artists Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker, Joy Hester, John Perceval and Danila Vassilieff. They nurtured a circle of artists, writers and intellectuals who contributed to Heide becoming a place for the discussion, creation and promotion of modern art and literature.

John and Sunday made a lasting contribution to Australian culture through their support of creative endeavours in the visual arts, literature and architecture. In the mid-1950s the Reeds established the Gallery of Contemporary Art and in 1958, with the assistance of friend and entrepreneur Georges Mora, they re-launched the gallery as the Museum of Modern Art of Australia. This eventually led to the formal establishment of the museum.

Amassing an outstanding collection of the contemporary art of their time, the Reeds outgrew their original farmhouse, now known as Heide I, and in 1963 commissioned the construction of a ‘gallery to be lived in’ from David McGlashan. This modernist architectural icon eventually opened as a public art museum in November 1981 following its purchase by the State Government on behalf of the people of Victoria. Although the Reeds lived to see their vision fulfilled of Heide as a public museum, they both died shortly afterwards in December 1981, ten days apart. They are remembered as champions of modern art and literature and remain two of Australia's most important art benefactors.

Sunday, Sweeney and John Reed 1953, Photographer unknown


Having presented over 300 solo, group and thematic exhibitions of modern and contemporary art since becoming a public art museum in 1981, Heide has a gained a national reputation for artistic excellence and established a unique position in the overall artistic and cultural history of Australia.

The work of modernist artists of the ‘Heide circle’ has featured in the exhibition program since the inaugural exhibition Ned Kelly Paintings by Sidney Nolan in 1981, and continued with exhibitions of works by Sam Atyeo, Arthur Boyd, Charles Blackman, Joy Hester, Mirka Mora and Albert Tucker.

The Reeds' legacy is honoured through a variety of changing exhibitions that draw on the museum’s modernist history and its founders’ philosophy of supporting innovative contemporary art. Solo contemporary artist exhibitions have included Susan Norrie, Rick Amor, Kathy Temin, Fiona Hall, Stephen Benwell and Emily Floyd.

Since 1996, Heide has also shown a series of small project exhibitions by emerging artists including Dylan Martorell, Charlie Sofo, Louise Saxton, Paul Yore, and Siri Hayes.

Ground-breaking historical surveys have included Modern Times: The Untold Story of Modernism in Australia (2009), Cubism & Australian Art (2009–10), Less is More: Minimalism and Post Minimalism in Australia (2012) and most recently Call of the Avant-Garde: Constructivism and Australian Art (2017).

Cubism and Australian Art 2009, Photograph: John Brash


The architecture of Heide Museum of Modern Art is a stunning reflection of the site’s transformation from a rural homestead to the public art museum it is today.

The first residence of John and Sunday Reed at Heide was a distinctive weatherboard farmhouse which they renovated in the French provincial style. Known as Heide Cottage, this was home to the Reeds for thirty-five years and is the place where Sidney Nolan’s Kelly series was painted; where the Angry Penguins Ern Malley poems were argued as being authentic or spurious; where Albert Tucker and Joy Hester lived for a time, and where many creatives enjoyed delicious afternoon teas.

Amassing an outstanding collection of contemporary art, the Reeds outgrew the Heide Cottage, and in 1963 commissioned David McGlashan, of McGlashan & Everist to plan and construct a new home in the modernist style. Their brief was that the building should be romantic, have a sense of mystery and weather over time to take on the appearance of a ruin in the landscape. They also desired a ‘gallery to be lived in’, intending that this building should one day be transformed into a public art gallery.

Since the establishment of Heide as a public museum and garden in 1981, the site has expanded to include the Sidney Myer Education Centre, an elegant glass pavilion café and the Heide main galleries, a purpose built museum space, whose black titanium zinc facade strikingly contrasts with the white limestone of Heide II, while echoing the earlier building's modernist spirit.

Heide II 2015, Photograph: John Gollings


Open to the public all year round, the beautiful gardens at Heide offer a space for family enjoyment and individual reflection and incorporate a sculpture park and several of the original gardens, which are now heritage listed.

When Sunday and John Reed purchased Heide it was a neglected former dairy farm. After fifty years of vision, dedication and sheer hard work, the Reeds moulded Heide into a personal Eden, connecting art with nature and creating a nourishing environment for the artists they championed – Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker, Joy Hester, Charles Blackman and Mirka Mora among them.

Today, visitors can discover Sunday Reed’s walled garden, original kitchen garden and the wild garden near Heide I, and the famous Heide II kitchen garden in which Sunday worked daily until just before her death in 1981. Artist gardens have also been established within the Heide landscape by artists such as Lauren Berkowitz and Fiona Hall.

The Rose Walk Pavillion