Art

Albert Namatjira’s work hitting new highs on the art market as demands surges

In the 1950s, Albert Namatjira’s iconic watercolour artwork would often sell on the streets of Alice Springs for just a few shillings.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this article may contain images of people who have died.

Over the years and following his death in 1959, his paintings of the vast Central Australian landscape became a highly sought after, with collectors across the world clamoring to own a piece of his work.

Now there’s been a renewed interest in the Arrernte artist and father of the Hermannsburg School with his work setting new records.

Namatjira’s Glen Helen Gorge on paper fetched more than $120,000 when it went under the hammer in Melbourne earlier this year.

In July his painting The Granseur – Mount Sonda sold in Adelaide for $54,000, an excellent price almost $10,000 above expectations.

Albert Namatjira, photographed by Jim Galllacher at Areyonga in 1950.
Albert Namatjira was a pioneer of the Hermannsburg School of painting.(Supplied: Northern Territory Library)

“Namatjira’s work doesn’t come on the scene very often, but those auction works … bringing enormous value,” said Jim Elder,eer and proprietor at Elder Fine Art in Adelaide.

“I don’t feel that the people in Alice Springs would be would au fait with what has actually happened to his work.

“He should be taken a lot more seriously and I think it’s at this present time that people are waking up to how important an artist he really is.”

Born and raised at the remote Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission, southwest of Alice Springs, Namatjira was taught the art of watercolor by visiting European artist Rex Battarbee and greatly encouraged by the local pastor.

His status grew rapidly in Australia, and as a result became the first Indigenous person to gain full citizenship, enabling him to vote and buy alcohol in 1957.

A Christmas card with watercolor painting of a landscape
A Christmas card from 1954 featuring artwork by Albert Namatjira.(Supplied)

Mr Elder said the whole Australian art market was enjoying a rush of buoyancy of late, but Namatjira’s work had far surpassed the market trend.

“What’s driving all this is availability, naturally, and people are coming more au fait with where this artist actually stands in the history of Australian Art,” he said.

“One wonders today, if Namatjira didn’t come along and Rex Battarbee didn’t come along and discover him, that whole school of paintings wouldn’t have existed.

“We owe a debt, a great debt, to the likes of Albert Namatjira, Rex Battarbee, and the Hermannsburg School of artists.”

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