Australian portraitist Ralph Heimans' work has been described to have a disarming quality, recalling the methods and conventions of 16th and 17th century European portraiture, while at the same time playfully undermining those traditions. Although his technical approach pays homage to masters like Caravaggio and Velazquez, particularly in the use of chiaroscuro, his subject matter is distinctly contemporary, drawing inspiration from technology and images of modern life.
His work is a departure from the way in which portraiture, and the process of commissioning art, is generally understood. Rather than conventionally depicting his subjects, his paintings offer a detailed narrative about their character and life story. Subjects are often portrayed in action or in a context containing clues about their lives. These settings are reconstructed, either from the imagination, or by altering places of actual significance, which contributes to the surreal quality of some of his work. The play of strong light and shadow, a dominant recurring theme, further enhances the sense of an imagined reality.
Heimans studied Fine Arts and Pure Mathematics at the University of Sydney and later at the Julian Ashton Art School. By 1996, his commissions included paintings of leading Australian public figures for institutions such as the Compensation Court of NSW and the Australian Army. Three portraits from this period hang in the National Portrait Gallery of Australia. In 1997 Heimans moved to Paris and began a string of portraits for London-based collectors. Demand for his large-scale group portraits led to new commissions in New York, Boston, Santa Fe and Paris. Amongst these works, Ralph Heimans' self portrait was exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery in London, and his portrait of the French National Rugby team was hung in the Hotel de Ville in Paris. The first official portrait of Princess Mary of Denmark represents Ralph Heimans' most prestigious commission to date. Unveiled by the Princess in 2006 at the National History Museum of Denmark, the painting was celebrated as representing an innovative approach to the genre of Royal Portraiture