William Dargie / Australia 1912–2003 / Portrait of Albert Namatjira 1956 / Oil on canvas / 102.1 x 76.4cm / Purchased 1957 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © QAGOMA

William Dargie
Portrait of Albert Namatjira 1956

Not Currently on Display

Now an iconic image of one of Australia’s most recognised Indigenous artists, Portrait of Albert Namatjira by William Dargie was acquired by the Queensland Art Gallery in 1957, the same year it was awarded the Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Albert Namatjira became interested in painting in the 1930s, inspired by the spectacular landforms and vivid colours around his home at the Hermannsburg Mission in the Northern Territory. His expressive watercolours became popular with the Australian public from 1946 to 1955.

While on a visit to Sydney in December 1956, Namatjira sat for Dargie for this prize-winning portrait. The portrait is an acknowledgment of the important place that Namatjira holds in the history of Australian art.

William Dargie realised his ambition to be a painter during a visit to the studio of Melbourne painter Archie Colquhoun in 1931. He proceeded to study under Colquhoun, a follower of the tonal realism promoted by Max Meldrum. Dargie also studied in Europe and during the 1940s he was the subject of a biography and a film.

He was appointed an official war artist in 1941 and travelled to the Middle East, contributing many works to the Australian War Memorial collection. Dargie was digging a trench in Tobruk in 1941 when he was notified that he had won his first Archibald Prize with his portrait of Sir James Elder KBE. He went on to win an unprecedented eight Archibald Prizes, including this painting of Namatjira in 1956, whose ‘tremendous inner dignity’, he said, contributed to ‘the most wonderful face for a portrait I’ve ever seen’.

In 1954 he was commissioned to paint two portraits of Queen Elizabeth II (one is in the collection of the National Museum of Australia). He was knighted in 1970.


Discussion Questions

1. List the personal characteristics of Albert Namatjira as depicted in this portrait.

2. Why do you think this portrait won the prestigious Archibald Prize in 1957?

Classroom Activities

What do you know about the Archibald Prize? Research the criteria for entering the Archibald. Use the criteria as a set of instructions, to inform how you will paint a portrait of a classmate. Plan the way you want people to read your painting so that you can influence what they learn about your classmate.

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