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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.

George Milpurrurru, 1986

Martin van der Wal

inkjet print on rag paper (sheet: 42.0 cm x 29.7 cm, image: 25.3 cm x 25.3 cm)

George Milpurrurru (1934-1998), Ganalbingu (Yolngu) painter from the Arafura wetlands, was one of the most important bark painters of the twentieth century. Milpurrurru was a member of an eminent art family; his father, Dick Ngulmarrmar, taught him to paint on bark, his sister is the artist Dorothy Djukulul and John Bulunbulun was a kinsman. Milpurrurru was a member of the Gurrumba Gurrumba (‘flock of geese’) clan; frequent motifs in his work are the flying foxes, magpie geese, crocodiles, tortoises and pythons that abound in his country. In 1979, he and David Malangi became the first indigenous artists to exhibit at the Biennale of Sydney. As a senior artist he painted nine burial poles for the Aboriginal Memorial of the National Gallery of Australia, which was unveiled at the Biennale of Sydney in 1988. From then on, he also painted on canvas and paper. He was the first living Aboriginal artist to be honoured with an individual show - at the National Gallery of Australia in 1993. That year Milpurrurru and Others v. Indofurn became an important case in the history of application of copyright to indigenous arts. The National Gallery of Australia has scores of Milpurrurru’s works on bark; a group of his paintings featured prominently in the National Museum of Australia exhibition Old Masters: Australia’s Great Bark Artists in 2014.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2005
© Martin van der Wal

Accession number: 2005.61.9

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Martin van der Wal (age 33 in 1986)

George Milpurrurru (age 52 in 1986)

Subject professions

Visual arts and crafts

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.

Wainburranga (Paddy Fordham), 1986 Martin van der Wal
Wainburranga (Paddy Fordham), 1986 Martin van der Wal
Wainburranga (Paddy Fordham), 1986 Martin van der Wal
Wainburranga (Paddy Fordham), 1986 Martin van der Wal

Big shots

Magazine article by Djon Mundine OAM, 2017

Djon Mundine OAM brings poignant memory and context to Martin van der Wal’s 1986 portrait photographs of storied Aboriginal artists.

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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.