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Australian art

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Arthur Murch


08 Jul 1902 - 23 Sep 1989


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.


Place where the work was made

Hermannsburg Northern Territory Australia



Media category


Materials used

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".


Purchased 1933


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Arthur Murch

Works in the collection



Where the work was made

Shown in 7 exhibitions

Exhibition history

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. 57

Hal Missingham, Contemporary Australian painting from the National Collection, Sydney, circa 1946, 10. 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. 72

Barry Pearce, Look, 'Arthur Murch A Human Eye', pg. 20, Heidelberg, Nov 1997, 20 (illus.).

Daniel Thomas AM, Project 19: Arthur Murch, Sydney, 1977. 6

Trustees of the National Art Gallery of New South Wales, One hundred years of Australian art, Sydney, circa 1945. 34