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Museum acquires Namatjira painting

Caution: This website includes image and names of deceased people that may cause distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

16 May 2016

Early work by Albert Namatjira

A watercolour painting of Mount Hermannsburg and the Lutheran Mission, by renowned Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira, has been acquired by the National Museum of Australia.

The Museum purchased the work at auction on 15 May 2016. Painted on native beanwood and measuring 125 x 205 millimetres, the watercolour was found in Adelaide among the estate of Eric Spurr, whose daughters quickly realised its significance. 

Signed 'Namatjira Albert', this works is from 1937 or 1938, following the artist's earliest works signed 'Albert' and prior to his decision to sign his paintings 'Albert Namatjira'. Albert took his father's name, Namatjira, as his surname when signing his work, to meet European naming conventions. 

New exhibition 

The National Museum is working with members of Namatjira's family and community to stage a new exhibition about Ntaria, Hermannsburg and Namatjira's legacy in the Museum's Landmarks gallery later this year.    

This Namatjira painting complements the Museum's existing Hermannsburg School of Art collection, which includes three of Namatjira's watercolour on paper works from the 1940s and 1950s. The Museum also holds about 50 works by members of the Hermannsburg community, including Namatjira's descendants and kin.

Hermannsburg history

The Hermannsburg mission was established by the Lutheran church in 1877, beside the Finke River, west of Alice Springs, on the traditional lands of the Western Arrarnta (Aranda/Arrernte) people. This land was known to the Arrarnta as Ntaria. 

The buildings depicted in the painting still stand in Hermannsburg today. 

Albert Namatjira 

Born at Hermannsburg in 1902, Elea, later christened ‘Albert’, attended the mission school until his traditional initiation at the age of 13. This painting of the mission, with Larlkintanherrma (Mount Hermannsburg) in the background, is an interesting example of Namatjira's early works.

During the 1930s, artist Reginald (Rex) Battarbee visited Hermannsburg and tutored Namatjira in watercolour painting. Namatjira found a way to depict his country and remain within it, becoming famous at a time when Aboriginal people could not travel freely, own property or receive award wages.

Namatjira, who died in 1959, taught his family and kin to paint, forming a new practice through generations of the families whose work is known today as the Hermannsburg School of Art. 

For more information please contact Tracy Sutherland, (02) 6208 5338 / 0438 620 710 or media@nma.gov.au