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Albert Namatjira
, 1958

by William Dargie

oil on canvas laid on composition board (frame: 100.7 cm x 85.2 cm, support: 76.4 cm x 61.2 cm)

Albert Namatjira (1902-59), painter, 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 work became fashionable throughout Australia and he was the subject of a biography and a film. In 1954 he met the Queen 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 died the following year. Nearly 50 years after his death, Namatjira remains the best-known of Australian Aboriginal painters.

The prolific portraitist Sir William Dargie CBE (1912–2003) knew, and had painted with, Albert Namatjira. In 1956 Dargie won one of his eight Archibald Prizes with a portrait of Namatjira, whose ‘tremendous inner dignity,’ he said, contributed to ‘the most wonderful face for a portrait I’ve ever seen’.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased with funds donated by Marilyn Darling AC
and with the assistance of Philip Bacon Galleries 2000
Accession number: 2000.23