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1902 - 1959

Elea (baptised Albert) was born at Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission into the Kngwarreye skin of the Western Arrernte people in 1902. Hermannsburg, in the shadows of the dramatic Ljalkaindirma (Mount Hermannsburg), would be the place Namatjira would spend much of his life. In 1905 his parents Namatjira and Ljukuta were baptised Jonathan and Emelie, and their young son was given one name — Albert.

In 1934, Namatjira viewed an exhibition by visiting watercolour painters, Rex Battarbee and John Gardiner. During this era many Australian artists visited Hermannsburg to be inspired by the ‘real’ Australia. Upon viewing their paintings Namatjira made a conscious decision to pursue a career as an artist. He soon began painting images of country and studies of people and animals without any teaching. In 1936 Battarbee returned and Namatjira escorted him on his next painting expedition, a two month trip through Arrernte country, where he received his only training.

Namatjira soon rose to remarkable fame and was even presented to the Queen in 1954. He was presented as the posterboy for assimilationists of the time. What has been realised since is that Namatjira himself used the European watercolour landscape to fulfil his own means of making money while maintaining links to culture and country.

It is important to note that Albert Namatjira held his responsibilities to his family above all else. He was said to be happiest in the company of his family on painting trips to country, with the men painting their sites, his wife Rubina and father Jonathon nearby, and the younger members of the family playing close by. 

Bruce Johnson McLean

Stories about this artist

Vibrant watercolour painting of the central Australian desert

ESSAY: Namatjira’s painting group

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ESSAY: Albert Namatjira’s family

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Albert Namatjira / Arrernte people / Australia NT 1902–59 / (Ghost gums and mountains) c.1945 / Bequest of Cedric Powne 1979 / © Namatjira Legacy Trust/Copyright Agency

‘Namatjira to Now’

Subdued yet vibrant pastel toned watercolour of the Australian outback

ESSAY: The Hermannsburg School of Painting

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ESSAY: ‘Three Ceramic Pots’

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