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Rex Battarbee

1893 – 1973

Rex Battarbee OBE (1893-1973), art teacher, had no formal training in art before he won the Melbourne Centenary Prize for Watercolour in 1934. The same year he visited the Northern Territory with another Victorian artist, John Gardner, and together they showed their paintings at the Hermannsburg Mission school. Albert Namatjira saw them, and determined to produce similar works himself. Taught by Battarbee how to use watercolours, Namatjira took to the medium with enthusiasm. Battarbee included some of Namatjira's work in an exhibition of his own in Adelaide in 1937, and helped him to organise the first of many successful shows of his own a year later. Namatjira remains one of the best known Aboriginal people of the twentieth century. Battarbee moved to Hermannsburg and taught other painters, giving rise to the Arrernte School of watercolourists in the 1940s and 1950s. During the war he was charged with looking after the community, which had been established by German missionaries. In 1951 he opened a gallery in Alice Springs, and his book Modern Australian Aboriginal Art was published; the book Modern Aboriginal Paintings appeared twenty years later.

Updated 2018