In 1933 Arthur Murch travelled to Ntaria (Hermannsburg) in central Australia with a research team of Sydney doctors, living with Indigenous communities for six weeks. The trip sparked Murch’s interest in painting the people and landscapes of the Australian interior, which he continued over the next three decades. He later recalled, ‘when I think of the Centre it is not just time or place, but faces. I am looking into memory to find who might be written into Australian history’.
This portrait depicts Allen, a young Arrrernte boy who lived at the Hermannsburg Mission. It shows Murch’s commitment to portraying the unique character of the people he encountered, by concentrating on what he believed to be the revealing details of their physical forms. It marks a significant development in 20th-century Western representations of Indigenous people.
oil on canvas on hardboard
48.0 x 39.7 cm board; 60.1 x 52.1 x 2.7 cm frame
Signature & date
Signed and dated l.r. corner, pencil "A J MURCH 33".
Not on display
Where the work was made
Shown in 7 exhibitions
Arthur Murch (1933), Macquarie Galleries, Sydney, May 1933 -
One hundred years of Australian art, Exhibition Venue Unknown, 1945–1946
Contemporary Australian painting from the National collection, Exhibition Venue Unknown, 1946–1950
Project 19 - Arthur Murch (1977), Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 30 Jul 1977–28 Aug 1977
A changing relationship: Aboriginal themes in Australian art, c.1938-1988, S.H. Ervin Gallery, Sydney, 08 Jun 1988–31 Jul 1988
Parallel Visions: Twenty-two artists from the Australian collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 22 Feb 2002–May 2003
The sound of the sky: the Northern Territory in Australian art, Museum and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory, Darwin, 08 Apr 2006–16 Jul 2006
Referenced in 10 publications
Liz Gibson, Parallel visions: works from the Australian collection, 'Rayner Hoff / Arthur Murch', pg. 60-71, Sydney, 2002, 70, 145, 147.
J.M. Gregson, Art in Australia [series 3], 'Arthur James Murch', pg. 8, Sydney, Aug 1933, frontispiece (colour illus.), 8. titled 'Aboriginal Boy's Head'
Catherine De Lorenzo, A changing relationship: aboriginal themes in Australian art, c.1938-1988, '"Be Aboriginal"', pg. 5-25, Sydney, 1988, 10, 29 (illus.), 43. cat.no. 57
Hal Missingham, Contemporary Australian painting from the National Collection, Sydney, circa 1946, 10. cat.no. 13
Ria Murch, Arthur Murch: An artist's life 1902-1989, Avalon Beach, 1997, 51, 72, 73 (colour illus.), 148.
Daena Murray, The sound of the sky, Darwin, 2006, 62 (colour illus.). figure no. 68
Daena Murray, The sound of the sky: the Northern Territory in Australian art, Darwin, 2006, 13. cat.no. 72
Barry Pearce, Look, 'Arthur Murch A Human Eye', pg. 20, Heidelberg, Nov 1997, 20 (illus.).
Daniel Thomas, Project 19: Arthur Murch, Sydney, 1977. cat.no. 6
Trustees of the National Art Gallery of New South Wales, One hundred years of Australian art, Sydney, circa 1945. cat.no. 34