Lot 9096 | Art | Australian | International | Aboriginal

Albert Namatjira. Finke Gorge, Glen Helen.

Originally purchased by Mr. and Mrs. E. Whiteman on their honeymoon in Alice Springs in 1954. With the work was the original receipt signed by Rex Battarbee (for 26 pounds) as well as a letter sent by Battarbee to the Whitemans thanking them for payment. To situate the work in time and space: June 24, 1954, Alice Springs, and for the sale to be executed by one of the key people in the school’s development: Rex Battarbee, gives this work an added degree of authenticity and makes it a truly historical artefact in its own right.

Water colour paintings of the Hermannsburg School are instantly recognizable by their subject matter, form and the soft pastels employed. These landscape paintings of the ranges of central Australia, many near the eponymous Hermannsburg Mission, are distinctively unique. Public appreciation for these works has grown over the decades since the 1930’s when this genre emerged beneath the gentle brush of its founder: Albert Namatjira. Feted in the 1950’s with major exhibitions in Sydney and Melbourne and an audience with Queen Elizabeth during her 1954 trip to Australia, Albert Namatjira become one of Australia’s most famous and successful artists.

While producing such works was at least partly motivated by economic considerations they were also a celebration of the landscape itself, which for Aboriginals, who had lived in these landscapes for eons, was inseparable from their own culture, history and traditions. Namatjira managed to navigate, at least somewhat, the chasm between the ancient world of pre-contact times and the rapidly engulfing world of white settlement. He developed a superbly sparse painting style which eschewed human or animal figures, buildings or extraneous elements: the focus was purely on the landscape, which was itself sacred.

Albert Namatjira began his artist career at Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission when the director, Pastor F. W. Albrech, started a commercial initiative to produce artefacts – boomerangs, shields and woomeras etc. for the tourist market around 1930. Albert excelled at this and evolved his craft to the production of oval plaques made from mulga wood which had Biblical quotes burnt onto them using the hot wire technique. When the Australian artist, Rex Battarbee, journeyed to Hermannsburg in 1934, seeking warmer climes for his chronic ill health, he engaged Albert as his guide on painting expeditions initially undertaken with camels and much later motorized trucks. Namatjira became a protoge of Battarbee, and learnt the art of producing high quality water colour paintings from him. Battarbee and Namatjira formed a close association and it was through Battarbee’s promotion of Albert’s paintings that the artist achieved rapid and great fame.