In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Australia witnessed the rise of an important and unprecedented modern art movement led by Central Australian Aboriginal artist, Albert Namatjira (1902-1959). The Hermannsburg School of Artists included a group of young Western Arrernte (Aranda) men who were inspired by the works of Namatjira and a desire to use watercolour painting to portray the beauty, whimsy and magical luminosity of an ancient landscape in Central Australia, 125 kilometres west of Alice Springs. The story of Namatjira was well documented during his lifetime through publications, the popular press and several films. He was born and raised at the Lutheran Mission of Hermannsburg (Ntaria) and like other Arrernte people he was regularly exposed to representational illustrations in the Bible and other religions icons in the church. When he viewed an exhibition of watercolour landscapes by visiting Victorian painters Rex Battarbee and John Gardner in 1934, he was already a competent figurative illustrator of tourist artefacts. He requested instruction in the watercolour technique from Battarbee when he returned to Hermannsburg in 1936. Namatjira quickly mastered the use of watercolours, and launched his extraordinary career in 1938 with a sell-out solo exhibition in Melbourne.
At the peak of his popularity and success in the 1950s, Namatjira was so well known he was arguably the most famous artist in Australia. His sons and other relatives were inspired to follow his example, founding what is known as the Hermannsburg School of watercolours. His influence extended across generations, and beyond the Ntaria region, to inspire numerous Aboriginal artists from all around Australia. Albert Namatjira and the Hermannsburg School features watercolour paintings by the generations succeeding the original Hermannsburg artists, including Enos Namatjira (the eldest son of Albert Namatjira), and other artists outside of the Arrernte people, including Peter Tjutjatja Taylor, Hilary Wirri, and Hubert Pareroultja, who won this year’s prestigious Art Gallery of NSW Wynne Prize for landscape painting. Together these works capture the ethereal beauty of the remote MacDonnell Ranges region, which is some of the most spectacular country in Australia. In his lifetime, Albert Namatjira enjoyed great success as an artist, but he also faced intractable problems as a celebrity who was limited by the restricted legal status of Aboriginal people during his lifetime. He died in 1959 at Hermannsburg but his legacy endures and continues to shape the history of Australian art.
From the collection of Les Fallick, Sydney
The Cairns Art Gallery acknowledges the Gimuy Walubarra Yidinji and Yirrganydji as the Traditional Owners of the area today known as Cairns. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, names or voices of deceased persons in photographs, film or text.