Albert NAMATJIRA, Mt Hermannsburg, Finke River Enlarge 1 /1

Albert NAMATJIRA

Arrarnta people

Australia 1902 – 1959

Mt Hermannsburg, Finke River [Mt. Hermannsburg, Central Australia Mt. Hermannsburg] c.1948 Place made: Hermannsburg, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: drawings, watercolours, graphite; paper; watercolour painting in watercolour over drawing in black pencil Support: paper

Primary Insc: signed lower right in watercolour, 'Albert Namatjira'. not dated.
Tertiary Insc: Inscribed verso upper centre in black pencil, 'Mt Hermannsburg, Finke River'. Inscribed upper left in crayon '16 [encircled] '; upper left in crayon '21x14/ mount 29 x 22/ 4 inches on 3 sides/ 5' at bottom/ Frame 1.5 inches'.
Dimensions: image 36.7 h x 53.8 w cm sheet 37.2 h x 54.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1977
Accession No: NGA 77.46
Provenance:
  • Purchased by the Australian National Gallery, from John Brackenreg, Artarmon Galleries, Sydney, 1977.

Mount Hermannsburg, Finke Riverc 1948 is a majestic portrayal of the artist’s traditional homeland, the country of the Western Arrarnta[1] in central Australia. With its sweeping mountain range rendered in purple hues and rising out of the deep red of the desert earth, Mount Hermannsburg can appear as a fitting metaphor for Namatjira: his imposing physical presence and larger-than-life personality. At the height of his career, Namatjira was the most renowned Aboriginal artist in his lifetime and for decades after his death, although he was often dismissed by the modernist art establishment. He was arguably the first Indigenous person to be considered an artist by non-Indigenous Australians.

Albert Namatjira was born with the traditional Western Arrarnta name ‘Elea’ at the Lutheran Mission at Ntaria (Hermannsburg) in the Northern Territory.[2] His first artistic forays were the decoration of boomerangs, spear-throwers and mulga wood plaques with images of everyday scenes, flora and fauna, and Christian themes, either in paint or in pokerwork. Meanwhile, he worked as a blacksmith, carpenter, stockman and cameleer at the mission. It is well documented that Namatjira learned the technical skills of painting watercolours on paper in 1936 while working as a ‘camel boy’ for non-Indigenous watercolourist Rex Battarbee on one of his painting expeditions to Palm Valley in central Australia. Namatjira had painted his first work in 1935, but had no tutoring until he went on this eight-week trip. These were the only lessons Namatjira ever had, though he did go on further painting trips. Battarbee was impressed by Namatjira’s painting skill. The following year an exhibition featuring their paintings was an outstanding success and Namatjira’s first solo show took place in 1938. When in 1939 the Art Gallery of South Australia acquired Namatjira’s Illum-Baura(Haasts Bluff) 1939, the watercolour became the first Indigenous work of art to be acquired by a public Australian art gallery as opposed to an ethnographic museum.

Albert Namatjira became renowned for his panoramic images. He often framed his landscapes with an iconic gum tree placed on either side of the composition to produce the shallow space leading the eye to the scene beyond.[3] However he also positioned himself for close encounters. This can be seen in Love’s Creek, MacDonnell Rangesc 1948 (also known as Loves Creek, South), which is a rare instance of a work painted in Eastern Arrernte country. It is also the case for Gum tree and sandhill c 1938, which is an example of another lesser-known aspect of Namatjira’s work: paintings where the trees themselves are the main subjects. The artist appears to invest these images with symbols of the human condition:

Trunks become torsos, branches arms. Bark functions for a tree in much the same way as skin does for a human being … [4]

The rise of Namatjira’s popularity and collectability was rapid but not without consequence. He was seen as a prime example of the success of the assimilation policy and was granted ‘Australian citizenship’ in 1957. Tragically, this was the beginning of the end for Namatjira. As a ‘citizen’, he was able to buy and consume alcohol under Australian law, but when he shared this with kin in the traditional obligation and exchange system of Arrarnta law, Namatjira was imprisoned in ‘open detention’ for three months at the Papunya settlement. An ongoing lack of understanding of Aboriginal culture by the authorities led to this demise until his death in 1959.

Without doubt the most famous Aboriginal person in his lifetime, Namatjira was a prolific artist. Through his paintings he brought central Australia, and particularly the country of the Western Arrarnta, to a largely eastern seaboard-based Australian population that had had little contact with or knowledge of Indigenous art practice outside ethnographic representation in natural history museums. The extent of Namatjira’s watercolours—whether resplendent or evanescent—challenged non-Indigenous peoples’ misconceptions of a lifeless inland desert by depicting the flora and ancient geography in an ever-changing palette of tone and light.

In 2002, the centenary of the artist’s birth, the Australian Senate paid tribute to Albert Namatjira as ‘a national treasure’ and the National Gallery of Australia toured a major exhibition which reassessed his work.[5] Today a fourth generation of central Australian Indigenous artists continues Namatjira’s tradition, painting not only in watercolour on paper, but also on ceramic pots and tiles and in acrylic on canvas.[6]

Tina Baum

[1] ‘Arrarnta’ (or ‘Aranda’) is the preferred spelling for the language spoken by the majority of people whose country is located to the west of Alice Springs. ‘Arrernte’ is an alternative spelling for the language of the people whose country is located in and around Alice Springs and in the regions to the south and east. See J Henderson and V Dobson, Eastern and Central Arrernte to English dictionary, IAD Press, Alice Springs, 1994 and D Roennfeldt et al, Western Arrarnta picture dictionary, IAD Press, Alice Springs, 2006.

[2] Hermannsburg—the first Aboriginal mission in the Northern Territory—was established in 1887. It was maintained by the church until 1982, when freehold title was returned to the traditional owners.

[3] These paintings were widely reproduced in the 1950s through Legend Press by John Brackenreg OBE, who befriended Albert Namatjira in the later period of his life and provided support to his family after Namatjira’s death.

[4] A French, Seeing the centre: the art of Albert Namatjira 1902–1959, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002, pp 116–129.

[5] Seeing the centre: the art of Albert Namatjira 1902–1959, opened at the National Gallery of Australia in 2002 and toured nationally. The Gordon Darling Foundation and the Australian National University generously funded the research for this exhibition and the accompanying catalogue.

[6] These artists are affiliated with a wide range of community-based arts centres, including Ngurratjuta Ntjarra Pmara ‘Many Hands’ Art Centre, Hermannnsburg Potters, Bindi Inc. Mwerre Anthurre Artists and Keringke Artists.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Franchesca Cubillo and Wally Caruana (eds) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art: collection highlights National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010

Mount Hermannsburg was painted in the final years of Albert Namatjira’s life and is a majestic portrayal of the artist’s traditional homeland, the country of the Western Arrernte in central Australia. With its sweeping mountain range, rendered in purple hues and rising out of the deep red of the desert earth, Mount Hermannsburg can appear as a fitting metaphor for Namatjira: his imposing physical presence and larger-than-life personality. This often-dismissed artist was arguably the first Indigenous person to be considered an artist by non-Indigenous Australians.

It is well documented that Namatjira learned to paint in 1936 while working as a ‘camel boy’ for non-Indigenous watercolourist Rex Battarbee on one of his painting expeditions to Palm Valley in central Australia. Namatjira painted his first work in 1935, but had no tutoring until he went on the eight-week trip with Battarbee. These were the only lessons Namatjira ever had, though he did go on further painting trips.

Namatjira’s work was exhibited publicly from 1937, and his first solo show took place in 1938. A Namatjira watercolour, Illum-Baura (Haasts Bluff) 1939, the first Indigenous work of art to be acquired by an Australian art gallery as opposed to an ethnographic museum, was bought by the Art Gallery of South Australia in the same year.

Without doubt the most famous Aboriginal person in his lifetime, Namatjira was a prolific artist. Through his paintings he brought central Australia, and particularly the country of the Western Arrernte, to a largely eastern seaboard-based Australian population that had had little contact or knowledge of Indigenous art practice outside ethnographic representation in natural history museums. The extent of Namatjira’s watercolours – whether resplendent or evanescent – challenged non-Indigenous peoples’ misconceptions of a lifeless inland desert by depicting the flora and ancient geography in an ever-changing palette of tone and light.

Brenda Croft


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002

那马基拉·阿尔伯特 (NAMATJIRA, Albert)
《赫曼斯堡山、芬克河》(Mt Hermannsburg, Finke River)
约1948年
36.70(高) x 53.80(宽)厘米(图)
37.20(高) x 54.00(宽)厘米(框)
1977年购买
77.46

约创作于1948年的《赫曼斯堡山、芬克河》是对艺术家位于中部澳大利亚西阿兰达(Western Arrarnta)乡村故乡的宏伟描绘。画面中连绵起伏的山脉用紫色色调绘制而成,从深红色的沙漠拔地而起,赫曼斯堡山对那马基拉来说,可以视为恰当的比喻:伟岸的身躯和富有传奇色彩的人格。艺术生涯鼎盛时期,那马基拉有生之年和死后数十年是最著名的土著人艺术家,尽管时常遭到现代主义艺术流派的排斥。可以说,他是被非土著人澳大利亚人视为艺术家的原住民第一人。

阿尔伯特·那马基拉出生于北领地纳利亚(赫曼斯堡)的路德会,按西阿兰达人的传统取名为“Elea”(埃里亚)。他最初的艺术尝试起于飞去来器、掷矛杆和澳大利亚围篱树饰板的装饰,使用颜料或烙铁在上面绘制日常景物、植物、动物以及基督教题材。与此同时,他当过铁匠、木匠、仓库管理员和教会骆驼夫。有文献表明,1936年,非土著人水彩画家雷克斯·巴特比(Rex Battarbee)前往中部澳大利亚的棕榈谷(Palm Valley)写生,那马基拉给他做“骆驼夫”,并在此期间掌握了在纸上画水彩画的技法。

那马基拉于1935年完成了第一件作品,但直到这次为期八周的旅程为止,他都没有接受过专业指导。尽管他继续参加绘画之旅,但这些是那马基拉所接受的唯一训练。那马基拉的绘画技艺给巴特比流下了深刻印象。次年,他们的作品专场秀取得了空前成功,那马基拉的首场个人画展于1938年举办。1939年,南澳大利亚艺术馆收藏了那马基拉同年创作的水彩画作品Illum-Baura (Haasts Bluff),这是民族博物馆的之外由澳大利亚公共艺术馆收藏的首幅土著人艺术作品。

阿尔伯特·那马基拉以其全景图而著称。画面的构建他常常在作品一侧绘制一颗标志性桉树,以此营造的空间将观赏者的目光引向远处的景象。然而,他也会近前近距离接触。这一点可以在约于1948年创作的《爱溪,麦克唐纳山脉》(Love’s Creek, MacDonnell Ranges)(别名《爱溪,南部》(Loves Creek, South)中得以见证,该作品创作于东阿兰达(Eastern Arrernte)部落,十分罕见。约于1938年创作的《桉树和沙丘(Gum tree and sandhill)》情形一样,代表了那马基拉作品另一较罕为人知的一面:画作的主题就是树木本身。艺术家似乎给图像赋予了象征人类景象的符号:

树干变成了躯干,树枝变成了手臂。树皮的功能差不多类似人体肌肤……

那马基拉的名气和收藏价值迅速蹿升,但也出现了不良后果。他被视为同化政策成功的最好例证,并于1957年被授予了“澳大利亚公民”。具有悲剧意味的是,这是那马基拉走向没落的开始。作为“公民”,根据澳大利亚法律规定,他能够买酒喝,但当他依照阿兰达法律规定的传统义务和交换制与族人分享美酒时,那马基拉以“公开拘留”的方式在帕普尼亚殖民监狱坐牢三个月。由于当局一直缺乏对原住民文化的了解而导致了这一急转直下,直至他1959年离开人世。

毫无疑问,那马基拉是一位多产艺术家,而且是当时最著名的原住民。通过作品,他让主要生活在东部沿海地区的人们认识了澳大利亚中部,尤其是西阿兰达部落。之前,他们除了在自然历史博物馆见到一些民族特色藏品外,对土著人艺术实践几乎没有接触或了解甚少。那马基拉的水彩画使用千变万化的色调和光线描绘了植物和古老地形,其涉猎范围,无论是辉煌的还是逐渐消失的,都挑战了非土著人认为陆沙漠缺乏生机的错误认识。

2002年是艺术家诞辰的百年纪念,澳大利亚参议院授予阿尔伯特·那马基拉“国宝”称号,澳大利亚国家美术馆举办了大型巡展,重新评价了他的作品。今天,澳大利亚中部第四代土著人艺术家继续发扬那马基拉的传统,不仅在纸张上,也在陶壶和瓷砖上绘制水彩画,同时还用天然色料在帆布上作画。

Tina Baum
蒂娜·鲍姆


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra