Albert Namatjira

Born
1902
Language
Western Arrernte, Central Desert region

Albert Namatjira is one of Australia’s great artists and probably the best-known Aboriginal painter. He is famed for his Western-style, richly detailed, watercolour landscapes, that are very different to the abstract designs and symbols of traditional Aboriginal art. He became a household name in Australia and reproductions of his works hung in many homes throughout the nation. His work also garnered acclaim in other countries with Queen Elizabeth II becoming one of his more notable fans.

Albert Namatjira was born in 1902 at the Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission, Ntaria near Alice Springs. He was born as Elea Namatjira, but his parents changed his name after they adopted Christianity and had him baptised. Albert showed an interest in art from an early age, but it wasn’t until 1934, when he was aged 32, that he began to paint seriously. Under the guidance of a Melbourne artist, Rex Battarbee, Albert learnt how to use watercolours and started painting in a unique style. His landscapes highlighted both the rugged geological features of the land in the background, and the distinctive Australian flora in the foreground with very old, stately and majestic white gum trees surrounded by twisted scrub. His work had a high quality of illumination showing the gashes of the land and the twists in the trees.

In 1937, 10 of Namatjira’s watercolours were displayed at a Lutheran conference in Nuriootpa, South Australia and in 1938 Battarbee included three of his paintings in an exhibition with the Royal South Australian Society of Arts in Adelaide. Albert’s first solo exhibition in Melbourne in 1938 sold out. Subsequent exhibitions in Sydney and Adelaide were equally popular.

His work received wide acclaim, both in Australia and other countries. He was awarded the Queen’s Coronation Medal in 1953 from Queen Elizabeth II in recognition of his work, and met her in Canberra in 1954. Not only did his own art become widely recognised, but a painting of him by William Dargie won the Archibald Prize in 1956, the first painting of an Aboriginal person to win the prize.

In 1957 Albert Namatjira was granted Australian citizenship, which gave him the right to vote, freedom of movement and freed him from restrictions on buying alcohol. He died in 1959 following a brief incarceration following an unfair conviction for supplying an Aboriginal with liquor. At the time of his death Namatjira had painted a total of around two thousand paintings He is hailed today as one of the greatest Australian artists and a pioneer for Aboriginal rights.

 

References

  1. Albert Namatjira - Wikipedia
  2. Art Gallery of New South Wales
  3. Many Hands Art Centre

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