Albert Namatjira’s captivating landscape watercolours are amongst the most widely recognised artworks of 20th century Australian art. Albert Namatjira was born and raised at a Lutheran mission in Hermannsburg, 140km west of Alice Springs. It was not until meeting artist Rex Battarbee who taught Namatjira the medium of watercolour in exchange for visits to sacred areas of the lands, that Namatjira began his own prolific body of work. Through his mastery of technique and deep understanding of country, Namatjira’s luminous works soon made him one of Australia’s most accomplished watercolourists.
White Gum c.1947 is a prime example of Namatjira’s ability to express his relationship with his country through the delicate medium of watercolour. Revealing his deep understanding of shadow and depth, Namatjira depicts the gum tree at close view as an iconic symbol of the Australian bush. The work is in portrait orientation, somewhat rarer for Namatjira, emphasising the gum’s towering height. Powerfully withstanding the harsh conditions of the outback, the gum’s brilliant white bark starkly contrasts against the burnt red and ochres of the landscape. While frequently including iconic natural imagery in his compositions to highlight the vitality and strength of the Australian bush, Namatjira’s works are also embedded with deeply spiritual stories of the land which have been passed down to him through his ancestors. Regardless of the few viewers that truly understood the deeper meaning and connection to country that was imbued within his works, his watercolours were highly prized, giving the public glimpses of our nation that few had ever seen in the flesh.
Namatjira captured aspects of the local scenery which differed from the English and European landscape, creating an image of the Australian countryside dominating the vision of artists for several generations to come. The Hermannsburg School, as they are commonly known by, consists of a number of revered artists all painting in the western manner using watercolours. With Albert Namatjira Senior considered the leader of the group, his watercolours have become a symbol of Australian art leaving a legacy still celebrated to this day.
At the time his watercolours were seen as symbols of Australian life and land, and today, Namatjira is still widely acknowledged a pioneer of these iconic national representations of the landscape. His status as one of the country’s most celebrated watercolourists was marked in 2017 with a retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, with numerous works in other state institutional collections.
LUCY FOSTER / Senior Specialist, Fine Art
Banner Image: ALBERT NAMATJIRA (1902-1959) White Gum c.1947, watercolour with pencil outlines
48.5 x 31cm | $30,000-40,000. © Namatjira Legacy Trust/Copyright Agency, 2022