Surgeon's love of Hermannsburg Aboriginal watercolours ends up as an auction bonanza

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 14th October, 2022

It’s almost 2400 kilometres from Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital to the Hermannsburg Mission west of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory – but for Melbourne orthopaedic surgeon and collector the late John Hart (1937-2014) it was only a hop, step and a jump.

A renowned nature lover, bibliophile, fine wine connoisseur and enthusiastic art and map collector, John headed up the hospital’s orthopaedic unit from 1980 to 2003.

Although his fine art interests ranged from colonial drawings and John Gould bird prints, Hermannsburg watercolours were his great fascination from the time in 1955 he visited the religious mission for Aborigines – made internationally famous through the artistic efforts of Albert Namatjira (1902-1959) – as an 18-year-old during a trip to central Australia.

From then on John was hooked, purchasing his first watercolour by Henoch Raberaba and over the next six decades haunting auction houses and galleries to assemble a comprehensive collection of Hermannsburg watercolours – the final addition of which was a large and impressive painting by Douglas Kwarlpe Abbott, acquired in 2009 from a Melbourne gallery.

The collection will be auctioned in a timed online sale due to end from 7pm Tuesday October 18 by Deutscher and Hackett at 105 Commercial Road, South Yarra.

Albert Namatjira is commemorated in the collection through lots 1, 2 and 5 – Winbarku c1950s, Perentie (Lizard) and Ghost Gum and Central Australian Landscape – but there also are plenty of other family members represented in the works on offer.

These include Enos Namatjira with Untitled (lot 3), Maurice Namatjira’s Ranges Near Areyonga (lot 6), Keith Namatjira’s Central Desert, Ghost Gums Ellery Creek and Central Australian Landscape (lots 7, 10 and 19) and Oscar Namatjira’s Near Mount Giles (lot 8).

Henoch Raberaba’s Central Australian Landscape – John’s first purchase – is lot 29, while his last, Storm Approaching over Jay Creek 2008, by Abbott is lot 25.

Other paintings worth mentioning include Rex Batterbee’s Ghost Gum 1967 (lot 9) and Central Australian Landscape 1934 (lot 31) along with Otto Pareroultja’s Totemic Gum, McDonnell Ranges, Central Australia (lot 11).

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