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Albert and his wife Rubina, Macdonnell Ranges, 1946

Axel Poignant

gelatin silver photograph, selenium toned

Albert Namatjira (1902–1959), artist, became interested in painting at the Hermannsburg Mission in the 1930s. After learning watercolour technique, he was persuaded to exhibit his work in Melbourne in 1938. The exhibition sold out in two days. During the 1940s his art became fashionable throughout Australia and he was the subject of a biography and a film, Namatjira the Painter. In 1954 he met the young Queen Elizabeth II in Canberra, and he was awarded citizenship status in 1957. One of the consequences of citizenship was that Namatjira was legally entitled to buy alcohol, but when he shared it with his fellow Arrernte, as custom required, he was sentenced to imprisonment. Although the sentence was commuted, he never recovered, and he died the following year. Nearly fifty years after his death, Albert Namatjira remains the best known of Australian Aboriginal painters.

Axel Poignant (1906–1986) began photographing Aboriginal people during excursions to Pingelly, Western Australia in 1938 and the Canning stock route in 1942. He spent three months with Namatjira and his wife Rubina (Ilkalita, 1903–1974) while working as a cameraman on Namatjira the Painter. Ilkalita was a Kukatja woman. She and Albert had five sons and three daughters who survived infancy. During his time with the Namatjiras, Poignant developed a strong appreciation of the bond between Aboriginal people and their country. Later he was to take thousands of photographs recording the daily life of the Indigenous people of Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 1999

Accession number: 1999.74

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Axel Poignant (age 40 in 1946)

Albert Namatjira (age 44 in 1946)

Rubina Namatjira (age 43 in 1946)

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