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Albert Namatjira
1902-1959

The Aranda Artist from Hermannsburg

Australia 1968. Albert Namatjira. Aboriginal Art. Portrait.

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Albert Namatjira is the best known of all the Aboriginal artists of Australia. In his lifetime, Albert Namatjira had great popular and commercial success as an artist and is still regarded by many Aboriginal people as a role model for achievement. After his death in 1959, the reputation of his paintings went through a period of neglect, and his work has at times been viewed as owning more to cultural assimilation than to his own artistic vision. More recently his reputation has recovered from this criticism and he, and associated artists such as his own older sons and the Pareroultja brothers, are recognised as making a distinctive and important contribution to Australian art.  

Albert was born in 1902 at the Ntaria (Hermannsburg) mission and was called Elea by his parents - he was baptised with the name Albert in 1905.  He attended the mission school and was taught drawing as part of the education offered by the mission. 

Australia 1993. Aboriginal Art. Albert Namatjira. "Ghost Gum".

Drawings by Namatjira and other students at the time reflect the content of what they were taught, and also their daily lives: hunting scenes, people and animals, and ceremonies.  From the late 1920s there were increasing visits by European artists to "the Centre", drawn by accounts of the beauty of the country and of Hermannsburg in particular.  These accounts told of ghost gums with gleaming white trunks, red mountain ranges that turned purple at dusk and deep palm-filled gorges under skies of startling clarity.

The pastor of Hermannsburg mission actively encouraged the development of industrial and manual skills among boys and girls, particularly to make objects that could be used or sold. 

When Namatjira began to paint water colours he somehow retained a quality of light from within the landscape, and this persisted throughout his work.  
  • In 2002 Australia celebrated his birth centenary by issuing a souvenir sheet with four paintings of a nearly impressionist style, depicting landscapes of his native land in the desert of Central Australia around Alice Springs.  

Australia 2002. Aboriginal Art. Albert Namatjira. Souvenir sheet.

He was painting the country of his father and his mother, and ranged widely in his travels, as far away as Uluru (Ayers Rock) and north to Glen Helen, as well as to the gorges and ridges towards Alice Springs, and to the east.  His father's country lay towards Mount Sonder and Glen Helen, and his mother's country was in the region of Palm Valley, all  beautifully reflected in the paintings from Central Australia on the souvenir sheet.   The images below are postally used copies of each of these stamps.

Australia 1993. Aboriginal Art. Albert Namatjira. "View of Mt. Giles from the Plain".

Namatjira has become famous as the first aborigine artist of the desert to lead the move into contemporary media, and to paint landscapes in a European fashion.  He is undoubtedly the most famous aborigine person -- well known throughout Aborigine communities across the country, and a hero to the local families. 
  • Australia 1993.  Australia Day.  "View of Mt Giles from the Plain".  Water colour belonging to the Araluen Center in Alice Springs, Australia. 

 

Today's Hermannsburg Potters trace their connection and lineage in artistic terms either directly from Namatjira, or from watching his work in the camp, or from other artists who painted with him or were associated with him in some way.  Namatjira was to be the first and paramount Aranda water colour artist. 

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