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
The paragraphs below (starting with 'Watercolour Painting')
are from the book "Hermannsburg
Potters" by Jennifer Isaacs and are copyright to the author. The extracts are reproduced
under licence from the Hermannsburg Potters.
Namatjira Web site that has a detailed time line of
events in his life and bibliography, and information about
Albert is also available on Wikipedia.
Valley Ghost Gums,
We offer the superb book "Seeing
the Centre: The Art of Albert Namatjira"
through our online shop.
Namatjira - Early Life
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. Albert attended the mission school
and was taught drawing as part of the education offered by the
mission. 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.
Pastor Albrecht [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. In the early 1930s an increasing
number of tourist coaches docked at the mission and Albrecht
encouraged people to make plaques, coathangers and carvings
for sale. Albert Namatjira was quick to take up this work, producing
a number of artefacts that show images of people, trees and
animals rather than traditional designs.
Namatjira has become famous as the first Aboriginal
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 Aboriginal person - well known throughout Aboriginal
communities across the country, and a hero to the local families.
The Hermannsburg Potters trace their connection and lineage
in artistic terms either directly from Albert 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. Although
Namatjira was to be the first and paramount Aranda watercolour
artist, a significant number of other men and women became highly
Rex Battarbee [a Melbourne artist who encouraged
Namatjira and worked with him] first visited Hermannsburg in
1932 on a painting trip with another artist, John Gardner, at
which time Namatjira was already showing entrepreneurial flair.
Battarbee returned in 1934 and, after painting for some time
in the area, was invited by Pastor Albrecht to exhibit his works
in the school at Hermannsburg. Namatjira asked Albrecht what
price the paintings were fetching, and when he heard what they
were sold for, said he could do the same. With Battarbee's advice,
Albrecht arranged for Namatjira to obtain painting materials.
In the period before Battarbee's next visit, Albert Namatjira
had started his extraordinary life and career as a painter....
When Namatjira began to paint watercolours
he somehow retained a quality of light from within the landscape,
and this persisted throughout his work. He was painting the
country of his father and his mother, and ranged widely in his
travels, as far away as Ayers Rock (Uluru) and north to Glen
Helen, as well as to the gorges and ridges towards Alice Springs,
and to the east.
Ownership of country is hereditary, but detailed
knowledge of what it 'contains' is learned in successive stages
through ceremony, song, anecdote and contact. His father's country
lay towards Mount Sonder and Glen Helen, and his mother's country
was in the region of Palm Valley. Some maintain that due to
his early absorption by the mission, Namatjira was not a fully
initiated man. However, it is clear that he had a detailed knowledge
of his country and its stories and totemic associations.