The Artists

Sir William Dargie


Australia born 1912


oil on canvas
102.1 x 76.4 cm
Purchased 1957
Queensland Art Gallery

This work was awarded the Archibald Prize for 1956.

The work is illustrated in 'Let's Face It' by Peter Ross, 1999; 'The Archibald Prize' by Anna Waldmann Art and Australia Summer 1982, and was included in the exhibition 'Uncommon Australians: Towards an Australian Portrait Gallery', 1992.
Dargie's portrait of Albert Namatjira was one of 61 works selected from 153 entries submitted for the Archibald Prize.
The prize money for that year was 682 pounds 13 shillings and 8 pence, and the exhibition dates were from 18 January to 17 February 1957.

Peter Ross in 'Let's Face It' notes that:
'Dargie's subject, Albert Namatjira was an artist from Hermannsburg in Central Australia. According to the Trustee's minutes, this year for the first time television stations were permitted to record the judging ceremony and the balloting for the award.'

Woman's Day magazine published a full-page colour reproduction of the portrait 'suitable for framing', for its readers.

Peter Ross further notes:
'In 1956, Australia's most highly paid painter, William Dargie, pleased the public but not the critics, who thought the prize-winning picture of Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira very poor stuff. The Sydney Morning Herald found it an effete portrait with its indifferent draughtsmanship and its general air of having nothing to say.'
'In times past the Archibald competition has proved at least an entertainment in parts; this year the general air of boredom is complete', the critic went on. 'It is all of no use - colour photography wins the day.'

In Dargie's own estimation, the Namatjira portrait was one of his best works - he liked the man. Dargie in a later interview noted that
'Albert had the most wonderful face for a portrait I've ever seen…[he] has a tremendous inner dignity…It reminds me of the tranquility you find in antique statues, and Roman portraits, and in Arabs of the desert.'

Dargie, at the time, also made a statement to the press to help explain his approach to painting:
"The true artist expresses the feelings that are common to all people. I consider the individuality of the artist the least important thing in a picture.'

Dargie later recalled sketching with Albert Namatjira in the vicinity of the MacDonnell Ranges, the ancestral home of Namatjira's people, the Western Aranda.

In December 1956, while on a visit to Sydney, Albert Namatjira sat for Dargie for this prize-winning portrait, which was bought the following year by the Queensland Art Gallery.

Albert Namatjira, who was born on 28 July 1902, died at the Alice Springs Hospital on 8 August 1959, and was buried the next day in the Alice Springs Cemetery.

Up to date information on the life and works of Albert Namatjira, is now available on-line, and linked to this entry.

Andrew Mackenzie

Copyright Notice
No works can be copied from this site. Permission to publish or reproduce can be sought from the
Queensland Art Gallery. All Rights Reserved medialaunch Pty. Ltd.

Left: Arthur Streeton - Above Us The Great Grave Sky, 1890
Collection: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

Copyright © Pty Ltd 2000. All Rights Reserved.
ABN 69 067 524 921
Tel: +61 3 98185700 Fax: +61 3 98185044