The Albert Namatjira collection
Although I’ve been to the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra once before, today was the first time I saw the new Albert Namatjira collection, which is truly outstanding.
Albert was the first Aboriginal artist to master the European art of watercolour painting without any formal education or training. His magical paintings reflect the country he was born in, being an Arrernte man from the MacDonnell Ranges in Central Australia. His talent was more than simple technical mastery, or imitation of what he saw around him. He refused to paint Australia as the Europeans saw it; so he painted it as Aboriginals experienced it.
He brought the essence of the bush to life with fluidity and vibrancy. As though you could reach out and be transported to that very place he painted. He was able to combine European materials and ideas, with Aboriginal intuition and feeling, something which many have tried to copy, but lack the same ‘breath’. Many of his paintings have hidden spirits in them, much like Norwegian paintings have trolls and natural beings embodying the landscape.
Namatjira grew up on the Hermannsburg mission about 180 km west of Alice Springs. For the local people the mission was a refuge, one of the only places which respected and preserved their language, culture, traditions, beliefs and way of life.
- Visitor signs in the collection