Art Wednesday: Albert Namatjira

Artist: Albert Namatjira
1902 - 1959
Australian Indigenous painter: Landscape painter

Albert (Elea) Namatjiri was born in central Australia at the Hermannsburg Mission near Alice Springs.  After a western style upbringing on the mission, at the age of 13, Namatjira returned to the bush for initiation and was exposed to traditional culture as a member of the Arrernte community (in which he was to eventually become an elder).  After he returned, he married his wife Rubina at the age of 18. His wife, like his father's wife, was from the wrong "skin" group and he violated the law of his people by marrying outside the classificatory kinship system. In 1928 he was ostracised for several years in which he worked as a camel driver and saw much of central Australia, which he was later to depict in his paintings.

Although doing a small amount of rough but non-traditional artwork in his youth, Namatjira was introduced to western style painting through an exhibition by two painters from Melbourne at his mission in 1934. One of these painters, Rex Battarbee, returned to the area in the winter of 1936 to paint the landscape and Namatjira acted as a guide to show him local scenic areas. In return Namatjira was shown how to paint with watercolours, a skill at which he quickly excelled.

Simpsons Gap, near Alice Springs
Namatjimi held his first exhibition in 1938 (in Melbourne). Subsequent exhibitions in Sydney and Adelaide also sold out. For ten years Namatjira continued to paint, his works continuing to sell quickly and his popularity continuing to rise. Queen Elizabeth II became one of his more notable fans and he was awarded the Queen's Coronation medal in 1953 and met her in Canberra in 1954. Not only did his own art become widely recognized, but a painting of him by William Dargie won the Archibald Prize in 1956. He became popular, critically acclaimed and wealthy. He, however, was always glad to return to the outback.
Kwariitnama (Organ Pipes) rock formation
Sadly his wealth led to expectations of his "people" to share the money - and as we all know, not a lot of good comes from money. More and more people expected him to support them and at one time he was supporting up to 600 Indigenous people. Problems followed and in the end he lived in poverty living in a shanty. He also ran into trouble with the law and spent time in jail. It was a sad ending for one of Australia's most outstanding artists.
Ghost Gums at Glen Helen, near Alice Springs
He died from heart disease complications in Alice Springs at the age of 57. At the time of his death Namatjira had painted a total of around two thousand paintings.
Mount Hermannsburg
Stanley Chasm, near Alice Springs
Palm Valley - He held the status of kutungula (manager) of this country, which he inherited from his mother Ljukutja. Namatjira's mother belonged to the clan country around Alyape, what is now known as Palm Valley.

McDonald Rangers

(Biography source)

For those unfamiliar with Australia, Alice Springs in the middle of the country in the Northern Territory and this is the region that Albert Namatjiri painted.


  1. Yes, I knew this Artist growing up. My father flew in & out of the Alice when I was a child & there were many copy~cat artists of Namitjiri's work. I knew about the money expectations on him but had never heard what became of him. He sort of just disappeared. So sad. He was very talented.

  2. Very talented. I quite like these! :) It's not really the style you expect of an Aboriginal person because of their traditional style, but beautiful nonetheless! :)

  3. I did an assignment about him at high school forever ago and found out how much I loved the scenes he painted. Such beautiful countryside. Thanks for sharing about him.

  4. Love Namatjira. Different from his own traditional form but so realistic. The top painting and the Ghost Gums were pictures which hung in our school classrooms.
    Ganeida, you have had such an interesting life!!

  5. I agree Ruby - both in regards to the paintings and our interesting friend Ganeida.

  6. Smilie Girl - I learnt art at school and we covered all the great artists but learnt very little about Australian artists, including people like Namatjira - such a pity.

  7. Thinking on it some more, I think the assignment was to do research on an Australian artist and I chose him. So, it was more something I taught myself. We even made a special trip into the state library to look at reference books!

  8. One of the photos it says MacDonald ,Im pretty sure it MacDonnell Ranges
    thank you

  9. Wonderful I really liked this painting. Thanks for sharing the post...

  10. Who is to say what is traditional or what is not. Due to his ethnic background and incredible talent (2000 painings) and in such exquisite detail, he is an incredible artist who gave back to his community and did not hoarde his wealth: that is very much a reflection of his indigenous culture and not the style of painting. An episode on aboriginal art aired on NTV blew away the idea that authentic aboriginal art had to be done ony in a traditional way. Interpretation, style included, are just mediums or tools you can play around with. What is uniquely yours and is also culturally bound, is the perspective and depth you bring to your art.



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