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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.

The Gallery’s Acknowledgement of Country, and information on culturally sensitive and restricted content and the use of historic language in the collection can be found here.

George Milpurrurru

1986
Martin van der Wal

inkjet print on rag paper, edition 2/30 (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.

Purchased 2005
© Martin van der Wal

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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

Café and shop

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)
Wainburranga (Paddy Fordham)
Wainburranga (Paddy Fordham)
Wainburranga (Paddy Fordham)

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 past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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