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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Albert and his wife Rubina, Macdonnell Ranges, 1946

Axel Poignant

gelatin silver photograph, selenium toned on paper

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)

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

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On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Albert Namatjira portrait story video: 2 minutes
Albert Namatjira portrait story video: 2 minutes
Albert Namatjira portrait story video: 2 minutes
Albert Namatjira portrait story video: 2 minutes

Albert Namatjira

'You must not lose it'

Portrait story

The art and landscape of Albert Namatjira.

In the mirror: self portrait with Joy Hester, 1939 Albert Tucker
In the mirror: self portrait with Joy Hester, 1939 Albert Tucker
In the mirror: self portrait with Joy Hester, 1939 Albert Tucker
In the mirror: self portrait with Joy Hester, 1939 Albert Tucker

Depth of Field

Portrait Photography from the Collection

Previous exhibition, 2004

Over the last five years the National Portrait Gallery has developed a collection of portrait photographs that reflects both the strength and diversity of Australian achievement as well as the talents of our photographers.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.