Albert Namajira’s work has achieved new heights in the art market with high demand

In the 1950s, the famous watercolor artwork of Albert Namatjira was being 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 photographs of people who have died.

Over the years and after his death in 1959, his paintings depicting the vast landscapes of central Australia became in high demand, with collectors all over the world demanding to own a piece of his work.

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

On paper, Glen Helen Gorge of Namatjira brought in more than $120,000 when it got hammered in Melbourne earlier this year.

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

Albert Namatjira, photographed by Jim Gallacher in Arunga, 1950.
Albert Namatjira was a pioneer of the Hermannsburg School of Painting.(Supplied: Northern Territory Library)

“Namatjira’s work doesn’t come out on the scene very often, but those works … bring 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 be fond of what actually happened to his work.

“He needs to be taken very seriously and I think right now people are waking up to 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 deeply encouraged by the local pastor.

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

Christmas card with watercolor painting of a landscape
A Christmas card from 1954 featuring artwork by Albert Namatjira.(supplied)

Mr. Elder said the entire Australian art market had been enjoying a rush of boom lately, but Namatjira’s work far outpaced the market trend.

“What drives all of this is availability, of course, and people are coming in more and more with the place this artist actually has in Australian art history,” he said.

“One wonders today, if Namtagira had not come and Rex Batarbe had not come and discovered him, I would not have found the whole school of paintings.

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

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