Albert Namatjira / Arrernte people / Australia 1902–59 / Western MacDonnells c.1945 / Watercolour over pencil on cream smooth wove paper / 27.2 x 37.2cm / Purchased 1947 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Legend Press

Albert Namatjira
Western MacDonnells c.1945–1945

On Display: QAG, Gallery 2

The Western MacDonnell National Park is situated 161 kilometres west of Alice Springs. The ancient landscape, across its gorges and ranges, is home to significant sites and spiritual stories at the heart of Western Arrernte Aboriginal culture.

Namatjira’s sun-drenched depiction of the Western MacDonnell ranges was included in the November 1947 exhibition organised by Mary Corkery. This was the second Brisbane exhibition of Namatjira’s work. The first was a group exhibition of the Aranda School of Painting held by the Royal Queensland Art Society in 1946.

Namatjira’s mastery flowed from his particular vision as an initiated Arrernte man fully conversant with the mythological significance of the sites he was painting.

Albert Namatjira, born in Ntaria (Hermannsburg) in 1902 was first and foremost an Arrernte (Aranda) man, who throughout his life remained deeply committed to the spiritual and philosophical values of his culture. He was first introduced to watercolour painting at the Hermannsburg Mission where he was baptised and educated, when John Gardner and Rex Battarbee staged an exhibition in 1932. Two years later, Namatjira accompanied Battarbee on an eight week painting expedition.

Namatjira was introduced to the Queen, and in 1957 he was the first Aboriginal person to be granted full citizenship, however Namatjira’s acceptance into European society was superficial. During his lifetime, Namatjira was never fully accepted as a serious artist by the art world establishment and the majority of his work was bought by private collectors rather than by museums or art galleries.

The re-evaluation of Namatjira’s status as an artist was made possible in 1984 through the first major retrospective exhibition of his work at the Araluen Arts Centre in Alice Springs, twenty-five years after his death.