Albert Namatjira’s work reaches new heights in the art market as demand soars

In the 1950s, Albert Namatjira’s iconic watercolor artworks were often sold 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 after his death in 1959, his paintings of the vast Central Australian landscape became highly sought after, with collectors around the world begging to own a piece of his work.

Now there is renewed interest in the Arrernte artist and father of the Hermannsburg School, who is setting new records with his work.

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

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

Albert Namatjira was a pioneer of the Hermannsburg School of Painting.(Delivered: Northern Territory Library)

“Namatjira’s work doesn’t come on the scene very often, but those works… have tremendous value,” said Jim Elder, auctioneer and owner at Elder Fine Art in Adelaide.

“I don’t feel like the people in Alice Springs would know what really happened to his work.

“He should be taken much more seriously and I think it’s in this day and age that people are becoming aware of how important an artist he really is.”

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

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

A Christmas card with watercolor of a landscape
A 1954 Christmas card with artwork by Albert Namatjira.(Delivered)

Mr Elder said the entire Australian art market had been booming lately, but Namatjira’s work far outperformed the market trend.

“What drives all this, of course, is availability, and people are increasingly aware of where this artist really stands in the history of Australian art,” he said.

“You wonder these days, if Namatjira hadn’t come along and Rex Battarbee hadn’t come along to discover him, that whole school of paintings wouldn’t have existed.

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

Leave a Comment