Main Navigation:

Albert Namatjira

1902 - 1959


Elea was born the first son of Namatjira and Ljukutja of the Arrernte Tribe at the Hermannsburg mission on the 28th of July 1902. Three years later on Christmas Eve 1905 he was baptized and given the name, Albert, in the same ceremony his parents were given the names, Jonathon and Emilie. It was not customary for Western Arrernte people to have a second name. For this reason Alberts first paintings were signed, Albert, it was not until Albert started exhibiting that it was thought necessary for him to have a second name. He took his fathers original name and signed his works, Albert Namatjira.
Alberts early years were spent on the mission where he became proficient in the trades of carpentry and blacksmithing. At the age of eighteen he eloped with his wife Ilkalita (later baptized Rubina) who had been denied to him under tribal law. The couple were forced to live together in neutral country for three years. On his return to the mission he sought employment and worked as a camel boy on the train between Oodnadatta and Alice Springs. In the late 1920s Albert took an interest in the emerging crafts industry at Hermannsburg. He began decorating mulga plaques with scripture and images of native plants and animals. This led to his first commercial success in 1932, when he was commissioned by Police Constable W. Mackinnon to make a dozen oval plaques.
Albert became interested in watercolour painting when he saw an art exhibition at Hermannsburg featuring the works of Rex Battarbee and John Gardner. The paintings amazed Albert who immediately sought painting materials and information from Pastor Albrecht, who at  first dismissed Albert's interest in painting. Albert persisted until Albrecht reconsidered Alberts request and consulted with Battarbee who encouraged the idea and offered to teach painting to any Aboriginal who wished to learn. Battarbee left the mission soon after and did not return for two years. During this time Albert toiled with his paints but after much enthusiasm decided to wait for the lessons he had been promised. When Battarbee returned in 1936 he commissioned Albert (as his camel boy) to take him on a painting trip. Albert guided Battarbee through some of the most spectacular country in Central Australia, including Palm Valley, The James Range and Gosses Gorge. Over the next two-months Albert received his first and last lessons. He progressed rapidly. He excelled in draftsman ship, perception of colour and study of detail. His first major public exhibition was opened in Melbourne on the 5th of December 1938, in which all 41 works sold within days (this would become the norm). Alberts extraordinary ability worried some critics of the day. Several state galleries refused to collect or acknowledge his work.
During the war years Albert became inundated with orders. The strong demand for his work came from Australian and American soldiers. A subsequent shortage of materials forced Albert to substitute paper for local bean wood. Albert would cut the wood from the tree and sand it until perfectly smooth.
Alberts reputation grew during 1940s and 50s. A quietly spoken and well mannered man, he met with dignitaries from around the world, including the Queen of England. People came from afar to meet Albert. Despite all of the hype and publicity, Albert remained modest. Retreating to the peaceful surroundings of his tribal lands, he became internationally renowned as one of Australia's greatest artists.
Language Group: Western Arrernte
Skin: Kngwarreye
Tribal Name: Tonanga

Albert Namatjira art

Signed "Albert Namatjira" lower right and inscribed "Aboriginal Handicraft, Hermannsburg, Central Australia" verso

Artwork Title:
Ghost Gum and Ranges circa 1950's
17 x 80.5 cm (tip to tip)
Watercolour on woomera

Signed "Albert Namatjira" lower right and inscribed "Aboriginal Handicraft, Hermannsburg, Central Australia" verso

Bottom Navigation