Significant Namatjira painting at auction for first time

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 30th August, 2016

The largest and most significant work by Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira ever offered for auction is set to create a new world record price when Sotheby’s Australia holds its Important Australian Art sale from 6.30pm on Wednesday August 31 at the InterContinental Sydney, 117 Macquarie Street, Sydney.

Surveying major stylistic developments, the auction offers rare and prestigious examples of Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Modernism, and Abstraction, along with ground-breaking paintings, sculptures and works on paper by the most influential artistic innovators of historical, modern and contemporary Australian art.

With 69 works of art on offer, the total sale estimate is $6.8 million to $9.1 million.

FinkeRiver Mission and Mount Hermannsburg (1951) is one of only a handful of works in Namatjira’s productive career known to depict the whitewashed sandstone buildings of the Finke River Mission and, due to its scale, remains unique.

Sotheby’s Australia will auction the work for the first time since it was painted.

Initially exhibited at Tmara Mara Gallery in Alice Springs, Finke River Mission and Mount Hermannsburg was purchased for 150 guineas by the present owner’s father while on a family trip from Adelaide to Alice Springs in 1951. The painting will be publicly exhibited for the first time since then.

Sotheby’s Australia chairman Geoffrey Smith says The Finke River Mission was one of Albert Namatjira’s rarest subjects with his more common scenes being aspects of mountain ranges, gorges and their surrounds, often with a ghost gum or two, or even a palm tree.

“Watercolours of the Mission tended to be painted as either gifts or commissions for people who lived or worked on there,” he said.

In 2006 Sotheby’s Australia achieved the current auction record for the artist for Hermannsburg Mission with Mt Hermannsburg in Background (circa 1936-1937) that sold for $96,000.

“We anticipate strong interest for Finke River Mission and Mount Hermannsburg and look forward to the possibility of establishing a new auction record for one of Australia’s most significant and influential artists,” Smith said.

The Finke River Mission at Hermannsberg, south west of Alice Springs was established in 1877 by Lutheran missionaries and was the first Aboriginal mission in the Northern Territory.

The church maintained the pastoral lease of almost 4,000 square kilometres until the freehold was granted to the traditional owners in 1982.

Namatjira, a traditional, initiated Western Arranta man, born at Hermannsburg, spent most of his life painting his ancestral country and beyond.

He was a confident image-maker, beginning with the pokerwork-decorated boomerangs, woomeras and mulga-wood plaques he made during his 20s.

It was as a watercolourist that he found his true metier, inspired by seeing a Rex Battarbee and John Gardner exhibition at the Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission in 1934.

Initially self-taught, Namatjira accompanied Battarbee on two month-long expeditions during which time he absorbed much of the latter’s technique. Namatjira became one of the most famous artists of his generation at a time when Indigenous Australians suffered extraordinary persecution and inequality.

Namatjira was granted full citizenship in 1957, tragically not long before his premature death two years later.

Namatjira’s works are represented in major public and private collections throughout the world, including that of Queen Elizabeth II.

Viewing 10am-5pm Wednesday August 31 at 30-34 Queen Street, Woollahra, Sydney. 

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