A Biographical Outline
1902: Albert Namatjira was a full-blooded member of the Western Aranda (Arunta) tribe, and his birth was registered at the Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission on July 28, 1902.
Those who have studied the Western Aranda now note that within this tribal area there is a tribal kinship system with eight recognizable groups or skins. These comprise the Kngwarriya, Piltharra, Mpitjana, Ngala, Purrula, Panangka, Purianda and Kumarra.
Albert was of the Kngwarriya skin, while his father Namatjira, who was born near the Ormiston Gorge was of the Piltharra skin and his mother Ljukuta, who was born near Palm Valley was of the Mpitjana skin. Albert was the first born son in his family.
The Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission was situated at the base of Mount Hermannsburg on the banks of the Finke River, and it was here that Albert's parents received basic religious instruction. After three years of instruction, his parents were baptised on Christmas Eve 1905 in the little Mission Church at Hermannsburg. Namatjira and Ljukuta were baptised Jonathan and Emelia (Emilie) respectively, and their tribal union was given Christian blessing. Their young son, who they had called Elea, was baptised at the same time and given the name Albert, as it was the custom at the Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission to give Aborigines only one name.
Albert did not adopt the use of his father's tribal name, Namatjira, until some thirty-three years later, when he was advised before his first Solo Exhibition in December 1938 that his paintings should include a second name. Up until that time he had signed his watercolours 'ALBERT', and in one or two instances he signed these early exhibited works 'NAMATJIRA ALBERT'.
Little is known of Albert's early life. It is known that he attended the School for Aborigines at the Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission, which was supervised at that time by the Superintendent, Rev. Carl Strehlow. Strehlow was well respected by the Aranda, for he had a thorough command of their language, and had a great interest in Anthropology and in understanding the culture of the Aranda.
The Aranda, under the direction of Strehlow were taught to read and write in their own language, as well as the basics of the English language and Christianity.
For part of his early life, Albert lived in the boy's dormitory at the Mission. He regularly attended the Mission Church, and is remembered as 'a quiet youth who was a quick learner, intelligent, self-assured and thoughtful'. The children in the dormitory were provided with rations from the Mission meat house.
The Mission aimed at self-sufficiency as a cattle-run and helped the Aborigines by providing 'rations to the old, the infirm, the children and those who were willing to work'. The Aborigines at the Mission were also given the opportunity to study various trades, and Albert was 'quick to learn the skills of carpentry, saddlery, leatherwork and blacksmithing, and was considered a very capable shearer and stockman'.
1915: At various times Albert left the Mission to go walkabout with his relatives and other members of his tribe, and at the age of thirteen disappeared on one of these walkabouts for a period of six months. During this time the elders of the Aranda tribe took Albert to 'distant ceremonial grounds for initiation into manhood. Here he was taught the strict, timeless, unwritten laws of the tribe. In later life he was not drawn into the secret and sacred ceremonies, however he did remain conscious of the basic principle on which all Aboriginal law and social structure was built - the principle of sharing'. It was this unwritten, unquestionable law of sharing his wealth and belongings with his tribal relatives and family, that was in his later years to become an issue of some considerable concern.
After his ceremonial initiation, Albert returned to the Mission, although he continued with his walkabouts over the next five years. These included visits to Ilkalita, the daughter of Wapiti and Membata. Wapiti was the Kukatja ceremonial chief of Merini. 'The Kukatja were usually termed Loritja by their Western Aranda neighbours, and Ilkalita has often been quoted as belonging to the Loritja tribe. Unfortunately for Albert, she came from a tribal kinship group that under tribal law was forbidden to him and those at the Mission were quick to point out to him that she was not a baptised Christian. For these reasons he was discouraged from seeing Ilkalita, and advised not to pursue with thoughts of marriage'.
1920: Around eighteen years of age, Albert 'to avoid both tribal and Mission strictures, eloped with Ilkalita to neutral country beyond the Aranda and Mission boundaries'. He stayed away from the Mission for three years, finding work on nearby cattle stations and by carrying goods to remote stations with Afghan camel strings. When he returned to the Mission, he brought with him Ilkalita and their three young children.
1923: In November 1923, Ilkalita was baptised and given the name Rubina and their marriage was formally blessed. Their three children, two boys and a girl were also baptised at this time, and given the names Enos, Oscar and Maisie. These were the first of ten children of Albert and Rubina, being 5 boys and 5 girls.
1928: The 1920's were times of severe drought in Central Australia. Albert's daughter Nelda, who was born with symptoms of malnutrition in 1928, lived only seventeen months, and Albert's younger brother died, aged twenty-one. Pastor Albrecht is recorded as noting that '85% of the children died at this time'.
To raise money for the Mission during these Depression years, the new Superintendent of the Mission, Pastor F. W. Albrecht 'established a craft industry and encouraged the Aborigines at the Mission to produce items that could be sold to visiting tourists. These included items such as boomerangs which displayed burnt pokerwork designs and polished mulga wood plaques which were decorated with designs of native flowers, and of Central Australian landscapes with emus and kangaroos, accurately observed in the foreground'.
'Albert proved to be very capable of producing these mulga wood plaques and began inscribing them with Biblical texts.' Apart from these pokerwork mulga wood wall plaques, Albert also decorated coat hangers, boomerangs and woomera with pokerwork designs.
1932: Albert received his first art commission. This was from Constable W. Mackinnon for a dozen pokerwork mulga wood plaques, for which Albert received five shillings for each.
In June 1932, Miss Una Teague and a party of Victorians visited the Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission.
During 1932, Albert who was ambitious to earn money for his ever growing family, spent time working at the Henburg cattle station. This was unfortunate for Albert, for while he was building a stockyard at Henburg, Rex Battarbee and John Gardner visited the Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission while on a caravan trip to Central Australia. Albert was not to meet Battarbee until his next caravan trip in 1934, and even then did not have the opportunity to receive any tuition from Battarbee.
1933: Una Teague returned to the Mission with her well-known artist sister, Violet Teague. Concerned about the plight of the Hermannsburg Aborigines, on their return to Melbourne they organized a charity art exhibition and The Argus opened a subscription fund. Over two thousand pounds was raised for a water scheme for Hermannsburg and a pipeline was laid from Kaporilja Springs to the Mission, a distance of some seven kilometres.
Albert captured this occasion by decorating a mulga wood boomerang with pokerwork, depicting a group of seven of the workmen laying the water pipes in the trench.
1934: In the winter months of 1934, watercolourist Rex Battarbee and fellow artist, John Gardner revisited the Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission, where they held an exhibition of their watercolour paintings of the MacDonnell Ranges.
Albert Namatjira studied these paintings at length, and as he showed an interest in emulating the work by these artists he was soon provided with his own box of watercolours and watercolour paper by the Mission Superintendent, Pastor Albrecht.
1935: Albert Namatjira produced his first attempts at watercolour. In May 1935, one double-sided work he presented as a gift to Mr F. C. G. Wallent, of the Lutheran Mission Board. In 1949, he was shown this work and agreed to sign it. He wrote on the work 'This is my first painting' and on the reverse wrote 'The Fleeing Kangaroo'.
Rubina gave birth to their eighth child, Violet, who lived for only five months. Of their six remaining children, Enos, Oscar, Maisie and Hazel attended the Mission School, Ewald was born in 1930 and Martha was born in 1932.
1936: In the winter of 1936, Rex Battarbee returned and provided Albert Namatjira with two months watercolour tuition while on a journey into the heart of the tribal land of the Western Aranda. Albert Namatjira offered Battarbee his services as 'camel boy in return for painting lessons'.
Battarbee was amazed at the rapid progress of his pupil. At first he encouraged him to draw with crayons on scraps of cardboard, but Albert was anxious to learn and within a fortnight had advanced to watercolours and produced a picture of his own initiative.
Battarbee later noted that 'Albert quickly understood the rules of perspective, composition, and the way of seeing colour and setting down onpaper. He understood and utilised the fundamentals of art that had taken some people many years to learn.'
Rex Battarbee is believed to have received tuition in watercolour painting from his sister, who in turn had taken formal lessons under Walter Withers. In later years it was claimed that 'Albert was not the only one. Within seven years another group of Aranda artists had arrived under Rex's guidance.' However, it is also very likely that Albert Namatjira had a hand in teaching his family members watercolour painting in the European manner, and his financial success would certainly have acted as a catalyst and incentive to those around him.
Albert Namatjira's paintings produced on this trip with Battarbee and in the following years included, among other sites, landscapes of: Ormiston Gorge, Glen Helen Gorge, Gosse's Range, Standley Chasm, Palm Valley in the Krichauff Ranges, Mount Hermannsburg, James Range, Western MacDonnell Range, Mount Sonder and Simpson's Gap.
1937: In March 1937, Pastor Albrecht took ten of Albert Namatjira's watercolours to the Lutheran Synodical Conference held in Nuriootpa, South Australia. The works were priced between five and ten shillings each, and while there, Pastor Albrecht sold four of the works and to lesson Albert's disappointment, purchased two of the works himself. On his return to the Mission, Albert was greatly encouraged by the news that he had sold six paintings.
Rex Battarbee also included three of Albert Namatjira's works in an exhibition of his own works in Adelaide. This exhibition, titled 'Central Australia Water Colors by REX BATTARBEE' was held at the Royal South Australian Society of Arts Gallery, from July 29 to August 14, 1937.
The catalogue lists forty-seven works by Battarbee, many of which were painted in the tribal areas of the Western Aranda that Albert Namatjira was to later capture in his works. Albert's three works were not listed in the catalogue, and although exhibited for show, were noted as not for sale. A collection box was placed near his works and yielded eight pounds, and a Mrs A. E. V. Richardson started a collection that bought Albert his first professional range of brushes, paints and watercolour paper. What was possibly the first article to be written on Albert Namatjira's work appeared in The Advertiser (Adelaide) July 28, 1937 under the heading 'An Arunta Landscapist'. Among his early admirers, was the Director of the Art Gallery of South Australia, Louis McCubbin, who noted 'It is remarkable how this Aborigine has grasped so readily the European conception of art. His painting of Mount Hermannsburg is outstanding in its realism, light and form and solidity of hills. Altogether, the Aborigine's knowledge of tone and colour value is extraordinary.'
1938: On June 13, 1938, Rubina gave birth to their ninth child, Keith, and Albert his wife and seven remaining children were now finding life fairly crammed in their small hut at the Mission.
In August, a number of Albert's watercolour works were included in an exhibition of Native Handicrafts that was held in the Lower Town Hall, Melbourne.
In September, Albert was encouraged by the interest shown in his works by Lady Huntingfield, wife of the Governor of Victoria, who was on a visit to the Mission.
Lady Huntingfield later that year opened his first Solo Exhibition. Titled, 'ALBERT NAMATJIRA. Central Australian Water Colours. 1938', this was held at the Fine Art Society Gallery in Melbourne from December 5 to December 17, 1938. R.H. Croll provided the introduction to the catalogue for this exhibition. Forty-one watercolours were exhibited, ranging in price from one to six guineas and all were sold within three days. These were his first works signed ALBERT NAMATJIRA. His works prior to this time had been signed ALBERT.
Learning of the success of the exhibition, Albert, his wife and family, set forth on a long walkabout to some of his favourite painting sites.
1939: While on walkabout, Rubina gave birth to their tenth child, a son, named Maurice. Watercolour works produced while on walkabout were chosen for Albert's second Solo Exhibition that was opened by Dr Charles Duguid on November 2, 1939 in the Royal South Australian Society of Arts Gallery in Adelaide. Titled 'Water Colours by Albert Namatjira, a Full-blooded Aboriginal of the Arunta tribe, Central Australia'. Thirty-five watercolours were exhibited at this exhibition, and twenty of these sold within the first half-hour for prices ranging from two and a half to eight guineas.
From this exhibition, Albert Namatjira sold his first work to a Public Gallery. The work was 'Haasts Bluff - Illum-baura', which was purchased by the Art Gallery of South Australia, and later illustrated in The Art of Albert Namatjira by C.P. Mountford, published in 1944. Albert Namatjira produced another watercolour work under a similar title 'Ullambaura Haast Bluff' which is in the Art Gallery of Western Australia collection and which was discussed in The West Australian Art Gallery. Monthly Feature vol. 4, no. 20, August 1967.
1940: Rex Battarbee was appointed liaison officer to Hermannsburg as a wartime security measure.
An Advisory Council was established to supervise both the sale and standard of Albert Namatjira's work. Battarbee was elected Chairman of this Council, and Albert was advised 'to restrict himself to fifty watercolours a year and that the prices would be fixed between three and fifteen guineas.'
Due to the wartime shortage of watercolour paper, Albert Namatjira painted up to fifty works on sandpapered sections of beanwood tree, each approximately 25 cm by 40 cm in size.
1944: His third Solo Exhibition: 'Water Colours of Central Australia by ALBERT NAMATJIRA (ARUNTA TRIBE)' was held at the Myer Mural Hall in Melbourne from April 17 to April 28, 1944. The exhibition was officially opened by Mr A. W. Coles, M.P. Thirty-eight works were exhibited, thirty-seven of which were for sale, with prices ranging from ten to thirty-five guineas. The exhibition was very successful, with all the works selling very rapidly.
He became the first Aborigine to be entered in , and during this year the Melbourne Bread and Cheese Club published C.P. Mountford's The Art of Albert Namatjira.
1945: In March 1945, his first Solo Exhibition was held in Sydney. Titled 'Exhibition of WATER COLOURS Painted in Central Australia By ALBERT NAMATJIRA' this was held in Anthony Horderns' Fine Art Exhibition Gallery and opened by Professor A. P. Elkin, Professor of Anthropology at Sydney University. The prices ranged from ten to thirty-five guineas, and within minutes of opening, all forty-four exhibited watercolours were sold.
The success of this exhibition provided Albert with the needed finance to build a small cottage for his family a few kilometres from the Herrmansburg Lutheran Mission. The cottage consisted of two rooms built from the local sandstone, which had been cut into blocks.
Albert continued with his painting, and now regularly took his sons, Enos and Oscar and the three Pareroultja brothers with him on his painting walkabouts.
1946: Another Solo Exhibition, titled 'WATER COLOURS of Central Australia by Albert Namatjira, Arunta Artist' was held from March 12 to March 25, 1946, this time at the Royal South Australian Society of Arts Gallery in Adelaide. The watercolour works ranged in price from ten to forty guineas, and within half an hour of the exhibition being opened by Mr A.R. Downer, thirty-six of the forty-one exhibited works were sold.
Many of the works featured a foreground group or lone ghost gum, which became very much a motif in many of his works. Other trees he regularly painted included corkwood trees and grass trees.
Among the many purchasers of works from this exhibition, were the Governor of South Australia, Sir Charles Willoughby Norrie and the Art Gallery of Western Australia.
Success with his artworks meant that Albert could now afford to buy larger quantities of 'white man's' food, quite often lacking the nutrition of his native diet. His weight increased to around eighteen stone and this was not helped when Pastor Albrecht bought on Albert's behalf a 30 cwt ex-Army Chevrolet truck 'which Albert considered as the modern means of walkabout'.
In August 1946, His Royal Highness, the Duke of Gloucester, then Governor-General of Australia, who was accompanied by the Duchess, visited Albert Namatjira and witnessed him painting in Standley Chasm.
A 16mm film was produced by C.P. Mountford, titled 'Namatjira, the painter', which was released in commercial cinemas throughout Australia in 1948.
1947: In March 1947, Albert Namatjira was admitted to Alice Springs Hospital and was diagnosed as having Angina pectoris. His doctor suggested that he should lose weight, and Albert decided to go walkabout with his wife and family, and live 'off the bush' and leave his truck at home.
It was noticeable on his return that he had lost weight, and he looked fit and healthy.
He held his first Solo Exhibition in Alice Springs. This was held at Griffith House, and once again all his paintings sold, with prices ranging from eighteen to forty-five guineas.
One of his works was sent to London, with two other watercolours by Aranda artists and presented to Princess Elizabeth on the occasion of her 21st birthday.
During 1947, Albert received his first income tax assessment. This he found confusing and incomprehensible, and was the first of many anomalies regarding the rights of Aborigines that Albert had to confront. As a full-blooded Aborigine, Albert was a ward of the State and not a citizen of the Commonwealth and therefore was not subject to the laws that applied to white Australians. However, he was still expected to pay income tax.
A Solo Exhibition of his works was held in Brisbane. Titled 'ALBERT NAMATJIRA: WATERCOLOURS of CENTRAL AUSTRALIA', the exhibition was held at the Commercial Bank Chambers in Queen Street, Brisbane from November 4 to November 8, 1947. Twenty-nine works were exhibited and these ranged in price from eighteen to fifty-five guineas. The Queensland Art Gallery purchased one of the works from this exhibition, and again the exhibition was a great success with seventeen of the works selling at a specially arranged preview.
1948: In November 1948, another Solo Exhibition was held in Melbourne. Titled 'ALBERT NAMATJIRA, ARUNTA TRIBESMAN : CENTRAL AUSTRALIAN WATER COLOURS.' The exhibition of forty-four works was held at the Athenaeum Art Gallery from November 1 to November 12, 1948. Prices for the works ranged from eighteen to fifty-five guineas. Other Aranda artists achieved success with several exhibitions of their works in the southern State Capitals.
1949: This was a year of considerable unhappiness and disappointment for Albert Namatjira. His daughter Hazel died at Hermannsburg in May and in July his son Ewald accidentally shot himself and lost his sight in his right eye.
Albert was further upset when his application for a Northern Territory grazing lease was rejected. An article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, November 6, 1949, p. 3: 'Albert Namatjira: Aboriginal artist plans to start cattle station'.
1950: His unhappiness continued with the loss of his daughter Martha at Haast's Bluff in January. In June, the magazines Pix and People (June 7, 1950, pp. 26-31) devoted long articles to Albert Namatjira and his art, and to Australia's neglect of its Aborigines. In July, Albert decided to once again apply for his graziers licence, this time with the Native Affairs Branch and Lands Department in Darwin. Albert travelled to Darwin and saw the ocean for the first time. An article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald July 20, 1950, p. 1: 'Albert Namatjira, Aboriginal artist in Darwin to paint sea on which he gazed for the first time'. He painted four scenes of the area, and sold two of these to a representative from The Australian Women's Weekly.
However, his trip to Darwin was in vain for his application for a graziers licence was again refused. Albert returned to Hermannsburg, sold the cottage he had built, and bought an Army disposals hut which he erected near the Mission buildings.
He held another Solo Exhibition, this time at Anthony Horderns' Fine Art Gallery in Sydney. Titled 'catalogue of selected works from the brush of NAMATJIRA', the exhibition ran from August 15 to August 29, 1950. The prices of the works ranged from twenty to sixty-five guineas, and thirty-five of the forty-one exhibited works were sold. An article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald August 16, 1950, p. 1: 'Rich to buy paintings by Aboriginal artist, Albert Namatjira'.
Some of the proceeds from the sale went towards the purchase of a caravan, and in September, Albert and his wife set off in their truck and caravan on yet another walkabout.
It was around December 1950 that forgeries of Albert Namatjira's works began to appear in Melbourne and Adelaide, and the first article on forged Albert Namatjira's works in Adelaide appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald December 17, 1950, p.1 under the heading 'Forged copies of Namatjira'. Generally these forgeries were inferior watercolour works which had been signed Albert Namatjira.
1951: On his return from walkabout, he informed those in charge at the Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission that he intended to build a new home in Alice Springs. He was told that this was not allowed, and his application to buy a building block was not granted. The reason given, was the law that 'Aborigines were prohibited from remaining within the town boundaries after dark'.
This rejection greatly upset Albert, and now feeling somewhat dejected and morose, sought for a short while the company of his tribesmen, living in a crude hut built of bags and old iron at Morris Soak, a camp at a waterhole several kilometres outside of Alice Springs.
He returned to Hermannsburg, and in May 1951, several of his watercolours were included in an exhibition with the works of other artists in Rex Battarbee's house in Alice Springs. Five of his watercolour works and one oil, for which the catalogue caption read '(This is the only painting in oils this artist has ever done.)' were exhibited in a group exhibition at Tye's Art Gallery in Bourke Street, Melbourne. The exhibition was titled 'ALBERT NAMATJIRA, OTTO PAREROULTJA, EDWIN PAREROULTJA AND ABORIGINE ARTISTS' and ran from July 2 to July 14, 1951.
The Aranda Arts Council, chaired by Rex Batterbee, was established to help in the prevention of forgeries and was also established to control the distribution and sale of works by Aranda artists. In warning the public of the forgeries, the Aranda Arts Council and the Department of Native Affairs suggested that buyers should in future only purchase those works by Aranda artists that had their official stamps on the reverse of the works.
1952: In April, Albert Namatjira's works were included in a group exhibition of seven Aranda artists in Anthony Horderns' Fine Art Gallery in Sydney. The title for the exhibition catalogue was 'CATALOGUE OF AN EXHIBITION BY THE ARANDA GROUP. Seven aboriginal water colour artists - Albert Namatjira, Edwin Pareroultja, Otto Pareroultja, Reuben Pareroultja, Richard Moketarinja, Cordula Ebatarinja, Ewald Namatjira'.
There were eight of Albert Namatjira's works in this exhibition, and their prices ranged from forty to seventy-five guineas. At the end of the first day of this exhibition, only four of the fifty-seven exhibited works remained unsold. Importantly, this exhibition included the works of Cordula Ebatarinja, the first Aranda women to be recognized as an artist.
Later that year, a Solo Exhibition of Albert Namatjira's works was organized by Rex Battarbee at his home in Alice Springs. Among the works exhibited was reportedly the largest work ever painted by Albert Namatjira, and this was a landscape depicting Mount Hermannsburg, measuring 85 cm by 45 cm, and priced at one hundred guineas.
Eight of Albert Namatjira's works were included in the exhibition, titled 'Water Colours by the Aranda Group of Aboriginal Artists'-'Under the auspices of the Aranda Arts Council' which was held at the Athenaeum Gallery in Melbourne in November 1952. The catalogue noted that the exhibition was to close 'Noon, Saturday, 15 November 1952.' In all fifty-six works were listed as exhibited, with the prices of Albert Namatjira's eight works, ranging from sixty to one hundred and fifty guineas.
Soon after, Albert Namatjira's works were included in a Group exhibition with the Pareroultja brothers, Edwin and Otto at the Royal South Australian Society of Arts Gallery in Adelaide. The exhibition of fifty works was titled 'EXHIBITION of CENTRAL AUSTRALIA Water-colours by ALBERT NAMATJIRA, EDWIN PAREROULTJA, OTTO PAREROULTJA, Under the auspices of the Aranda Arts Council'. The exhibition ran from November 18 to November 29, and Albert Namatjira exhibited eight works ranging in price from forty to seventy-five guineas.
1953: Albert Namatjira was awarded the Queen's Coronation Medal.
1954: Albert Namatjira flew to Darwin and then Sydney and on to Canberra where on February 15 he was presented at Government House to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh.
On February 18, he left Canberra to spend a week in Sydney with Frank Clune. While in Sydney, Albert Namatjira opened an exhibition of contemporary Aboriginal art at Anthony Hordern & Sons Fine Art Galleries, which included twelve of his own works, ranging in price from thirty-five to seventy-five guineas. The exhibition titled 'AN EXHIBITION OF ABORIGINAL ART', also included the works of eight other Aboriginal artists. The exhibition was again a great success, with all paintings being sold by the end of the second day.
Albert Namatjira then travelled by train to Melbourne, then on to Adelaide and from Adelaide back to Alice Springs.
1955: He spent much of 1955 on walkabout and on painting trips with other Aranda artists.
He exhibited in Sydney in a Group exhibition of twelve Aranda artists, and once again the exhibition was successful.
1956: In March, his father Jonathan fell ill and died, and his death is said to have affected Albert greatly. In November that year, an interesting article 'Genius in Bondage: Frank Clune lifts the lid off Aboriginal Art Scandal' appeared in the Sunday Magazine of Truth November 4, 1956, p. 17.
retained a deep understanding of the mythology of the Aranda, and this
was shown in his relating of three Aranda myths to Roland Robinson for
his book that was published in 1956. The three
In December, he travelled to Sydney with his son, Keith to pick up a new utility truck that was donated to him by the AMPOL Petroleum Company. While there he sat for a portrait by Sir William Dargie. The portrait won the Archibald Prize that year, and in 1957 was purchased by the Queensland Art Gallery.
1957: Albert and his wife, Rubina were awarded full Australian Citizenship. 'He could now vote, drink in hotels, take bottled beer home, build a house anywhere he wanted, and demand the basic wage if he ever worked for an employer. But the anomaly existed that his children were still considered wards of the State and therefore if he wanted to build a house in Alice Springs, his children could not legally stay with him overnight.'
In April 1957, he travelled to Perth and stayed with Mr and Mrs Claude Hotchin at their property Mandalay. The Hotchin's were great admirers and patrons of his work.
On his return from Perth, Albert set about helping Norman K. Wallis with the production of his film 'My Father's Country', which was later bought by the AMPOL Petroleum Company. During the filming, Albert spoke of his father who had died the previous year: " 'He was a flying ant', said Albert, referring to the Aborigines' belief that their ancestors were animals or insects or trees or even stones. 'He came flying all the way down from the MacDonnell Ranges, way over from Mount Sonder, way down the Finke River, way down the Ormiston. The 'old men' they tell us these things and I tell my sons. They, too, must know about my father's country.' "
A few weeks after the shooting of the film, Albert spent three weeks in the Alice Springs Hospital with a badly burnt foot that he had neglected. On leaving the hospital, it was noted that he looked 'sullen, aged and ill'. His failing health greatly affected the quality of his paintings, and there were rumors 'that he now only painted the outlines of the landscapes and that other artists completed the paintings.'
In August 1957, Albert Namatjira's works were exhibited in the Canadian Trade Fair in Vancouver and Winnipeg.
1958: Early in 1958, Albert was again admitted to the Alice Springs Hospital, this time with a severe injury to his left hand. 'The bonnet of his new truck had fallen on it and lacerated it so badly that his index finger had to be amputated.'
After leaving hospital he went on a five-week painting excursion with John Brackenreg, and on his return went to live at the camp at Morris Soak.
A major exhibition of thirty-five of his watercolours was held in the Claude Hotchin Gallery at Boans of Perth. The exhibition catalogue was titled 'Catalogue of Originals by ALBERT NAMATJIRA', and the exhibition ran from June 30 to July 12, 1958. The prices of the watercolour works exhibited ranged from fifty-five to one hundred and twenty guineas.
In August 1958, a joint exhibition with Leonard Long, titled 'RECENT PAINTINGS BY ALBERT NAMATJIRA and LEONARD LONG, PAINTED IN CENTRAL AUSTRALIA FOR ARTLOVERS' GALLERY' was held in Sydney.
An article on this exhibition titled 'Recent Paintings by Namatjira to show with local Artist's work' appeared in , August 17, 1958, p. 19.
In August, trouble broke out at the Morris Soak camp, when a young Pitjantjatjara woman was killed by her husband. Albert who had access to liquor was cautioned, and was told that 'liquor was the indirect cause of the girl's death'. Albert left the camp, and then revisited his relatives at the camp later in the month. He was subsequently charged with 'supplying liquor to members of his tribe who were wards of the State.'
On October 7, 1958 he was sentenced to imprisonment with hard labour for six months for "during a taxi journey to Hermannsburg, supplying liquor, namely rum, to fellow tribesman, Henoch Raberaba, who was a ward of the State and 'therefore prohibited by law from drinking intoxicating liquor'."
Albert's sentence was later reduced to three months imprisonment at the Papunya Native Reserve on light duties. His doctor and others at the Reserve were greatly concerned about his state of health and he was granted 'full remission for good behaviour and his sentence shortened to two months'.
A Group exhibition, titled 'EXHIBITION OF WATERCOLOURS by ALBERT NAMATJIRA AND OTHER ARUNTA ARTISTS' was held at the Moreton Galleries, A.M.P. Building, Edward Street, Brisbane, and ran from October 6 to October 17, 1958. The catalogue provided brief personal details on each of the exhibiting artists.
Other galleries that handled the sale of Albert Namatjira's works, and signed prints of his works included the Artlovers' Gallery in Sydney. In one of their exhibitions, titled 'WATERCOLOURS. EXHIBITION by ALBERT NAMATJIRA: CHIEFTAIN OF THE ARANDA TRIBESMEN' thirty-eight works were shown, with thirty-five of these works for sale. The prices asked ranged from forty-five to one hundred and thirty-five guineas. An interesting item of note with this exhibition is entry 39 that is for a specially signed reproduction of one of Albert Namatjira's works. The catalogue notes that proceeds from the sale of this print 'are for funds needed to build a small cottage for Albert near Mt. Gillen, West of Alice Springs.'
1959: Albert Namatjira was released from the Papunya Native Reserve on May 19, 1959, but appeared to have lost his will to live. He had lost his interest in painting and was in what appeared to be a state of severe depression. He accepted the offer of a small cottage at Papunya, but his condition rapidly deteriorated.
He was admitted to the Alice Springs Hospital where he suffered a heart attack, and with the onset of pneumonia it was only a matter of hours before he died.
Albert Namatjira died at the Alice Springs Hospital on August 8, 1959 and was buried the next day in the Alice Springs Cemetery. His old friend, Pastor Albrecht conducted the service.
A 20 foot high cairn of natural stone was later erected near the Hermannsburg Mission with a plaque which reads 'In Memory of Albert Namatjira 1902-1959. This is the Landscape which inspired the Artist.'
Soon after his death a major sale of his works was held in Sydney at Anthony Hordern & Sons Fine Art Galleries. The catalogue for the 'SALE OF ALBERT NAMATJIRA PICTURES' lists seventy-nine works of which eleven are listed as painted by members of the 'Namatjira Family', and the remaining sixty-eight as produced by Albert Namatjira. His works were now commanding considerably high prices, especially for Australian watercolours, and the prices in this sale ranged from twenty-five to two hundred and twenty guineas.
Since his death, his watercolour works have appeared in numerous sale exhibitions throughout Australia, and regularly appear in the major Art Auction House catalogues. His artistic legacy was passed on to his children Enos, Oscar, Ewald, Keith and Maurice and many of their children are also now recognized artists.
The Battarbee family continued with their interest in his works, and by the mid-1960's, regularly showed his works in the 'NAMATJIRA ROOM' of their 'Battarbee TMARA-MARA GALLERIES' which was situated in Sturt Terrace in Alice Springs. Also available through their gallery were a number of publications on the Aranda Group of Artists, and books by and about Rex Battarbee and his art, and his role in the story of 'Centralian Art'.
1971: An important interview with Rex Battarbee, discussing 'NAMATJIRA…the man behind the myth' was published in Walkabout October 1971, pp. 68-72.
1973: A significant article 'THE BLACK PRESENT - Part Two: Hope still lives in the dead heart' by Cameron Forbes appeared in the Age June 7, 1973.
1975: The Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies produced a film 'Sons of Namatjira'.
1982: The Lutherans relinquished control of Hermannsburg, which today is known as Ntaria, and 3807 square kilometres of land was returned to the control of the traditional landowners.
1984: In June 1984, a major retrospective exhibition of Albert Namatjira's work was held to mark the opening of the Alice Springs. Araluen Arts Centre. The exhibition, titled 'ALBERT NAMATJIRA' was held from June 20 to July 14, 1984.
Patrick McCaughey, Director of the National Gallery of Victoria, wrote a large and very significant and complimentary article 'Namatjira in his own landscape' for The Age Wednesday, July 11, 1984, p. 14. In his article, McCaughey noted that the exhibition of Albert Namatjira's works on show at the Araluen Arts Centre should 'change minds and dent accumulated prejudices' about his works.
1986: A large and significant article 'THE RE-DISCOVERY OF ALBERT NAMATJIRA' by James Murdoch appeared in This Australia Summer 1986/87, pp. 69-71.
1988: The film 'First Citizen' (Juniper Films) was produced and directed by John Tristram, with Gus Williams OAM as Albert Namatjira.
The article 'The legacy of Albert Namatjira: Tragic genius or tragic token?' by Heather Brown was published in The Weekend Australian February 27-28, 1988.
Another article, titled 'Albert Namatjira (1902-59)' by Judith Ryan, Curator, Aboriginal Art, National Gallery of Victoria, appeared in Gallery, the Monthly Magazine of the National Gallery Society of Victoria, for December 1988 - January 1989.
1991: A major touring exhibition 'The Heritage of Namatjira' was organized. It commenced at Tandanya, the National Aboriginal Cultural Institute, South Australia where it was on show from November 10, 1991 to January 31, 1992, and toured to eleven venues, including the National Gallery of Victoria in March 1993 and the Art Gallery of Western Australia in August 1993.
A supplementary exhibition by almost the same name was also organized by the Flinders University Art Museum to complement the Tandanya exhibition. This supplementary exhibition 'The Heritage of Namatjira at Flinders' was on show at the Flinders University Art Museum from November 10 to December 18, 1991, and was drawn 'entirely from works of the Hermannsburg School'.
1992: To mark the tenth anniversary celebrations of Ntaria (Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission) being relinquished by the Lutherans, the Ntaria Council opened a gallery in the restored manse at the heart of the old compound. It housed twenty-five watercolours when opened, including works by Albert Namatjira, his sons, Oscar and Ewald and a work by Reuben Pareroultja.
An article on this gallery, titled 'Hybrid watercolours' appeared in The Bulletin December 15, 1992, p. 79. 1998:
An article 'Art for high seas: Tribe presents Namatjira work' by Rick Wallace appeared in the Herald Sun Thursday, December 10, 1998, p. 32. In the article it was noted that 'Leaders of the Arunta Aboriginal tribe have given the navy's newest warship, which bears their name, an Albert Namatjira painting worth at least $50,000.'
2000: A significant article 'STROKES OF BRILLIANCE' by Tim Bonyhady appeared in Spectrum Features in The Sydney Morning Herald Saturday, March 18, 2000, p. 8s.
Today the works of Albert Namatjira are found in the major Public Gallery collections throughout Australia, as well as many major Private collections both in Australia and overseas, including a number of works in the Royal Collection in London.
Following is the 'Namatjira Collection', a selection of Albert Namatjira's artworks chosen from collections throughout Australia. This 'virtual gallery' provides us with a rare opportunity to view a large number of Albert Namatjira's works covering all stages of his artistic career, and it is hoped that this will bring world wide attention to his works and to the significant contribution that he made to Australian Art.
Left: Arthur Streeton
- Above Us The Great Grave Sky, 1890