Rex Battarbee / Australia 1893–1973 / Central Australian Landscape 1936 / Watercolour on wove paper / 38.8 x 55cm / Purchased 1988 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Estate of Rex Battarbee

Rex Battarbee
Central Australian landscape 1936

Not Currently on Display

This watercolour was painted during the two-month expedition Rex Battarbee and Albert Namatjira made together in 1936. The linguist Ted Strehlow described Battarbee as ‘an artist who [was] wholly and sincerely captivated by the lights, the colours, the lines and shapes ever present in the Central Australian landscapes’.

With Namatjira as his guide, Battarbee was able to visit places in the region known only to local Aboriginal people. Namatjira’s own style developed through observing Battarbee’s working methods, and from some tuition in the watercolour medium and in Western methods of scene composition. Battarbee’s influence can be observed in Namatjira’s painting Central Mount Wedge 1945 in the Collection, which adopts similar techniques to those used in this work.

Rex Battarbee was born in Warrnambool, Victoria, in 1893. He began painting with watercolour during his recovery from wounds he sustained during World War One.

Battarbee first explored Central Australia with John A. Gardner in 1932. Two years later he won the Melbourne Centenary Prize for best watercolour for his painting depicting the MacDonnell Ranges. During a subsequent trip to the Centre, he focused his artistic efforts on Hermannsburg and the area around the Finke River Aboriginal Mission, where he and Gardner held an exhibition in 1934.

Battarbee and Gardner’s work attracted the interest of the local Arrernte (Aranda) people, and Albert Namatjira in particular. Battarbee returned to the district alone in 1936, and together he and Namatjira planned a two-month painting expedition ‘… in which each was to contribute to the other’s knowledge’.1

Battarbee was integral to the development of the Hermannsburg School of Painters, and organised exhibitions of the region’s artwork in capital cities around Australia. He was a member of the Aranda Arts Council from 1943 and its chairman from 1951–56.


1 Rex and Bernice Battarbee, Modern Aboriginal paintings, Rigby, Adelaide, 1971.

Edited from Essay by Samantha Littley, Research Assistant, Australian Art, 14.02.01.