Slide Show

1. ALBERT NAMATJIRA

1. ALBERT NAMATJIRA River Red Gum in Landscape image

1. ALBERT NAMATJIRA

04Nov 2021

In traditional landscape painting, trees are typically employed as a compositional device – a means of framing a particular passage or view.  In this watercolour by Albert Namatjira, the central tree has become a subject unto itself: we are presented with a portrait of an individual living entity.1 With its broad bare trunk, broken limbs and smooth, wrinkled bark, Namatjira’s tree invites comparison with our own anatomy.  It too bears the marks of age and experience, as seen in the lumpen rounded scars and blackened wood of severed branches.  The tree’s anthropomorphic qualities are further accentuated by Namatjira’s cropped and foreshortened perspective, such that the trunk acquires a monumental appearance, pressed up against the surrounding landscape.2 

Namatjira’s portraits of trees were prominently featured in the pivotal travelling exhibition, Seeing the Centre: The Art of Albert Namatjira 1902-1959, curated by Alison French for the National Gallery of Australia in 2002.  The present work compares favourably with several of the watercolours included in the exhibition, such as Ghost Gum c1948 (gifted to the National Gallery of Australia in 2008) and Ghost Gum c1945-53 in the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin.3

Footnotes:

1. ‘Saplings and Survivors: Portraits of Trees,’ in French, A., Seeing the Centre: The Art of Albert Namatjira 1902-1959, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002, p.117
2. Ibid., p.117
3. As illus. in French, A., Seeing the Centre: The Art of Albert Namatjira 1902-1959, pp.124 – 125

Catherine Baxendale