This portrait by William Dargie of Western Arrernte artist Albert Namatjira (1902-1959) is probably the most recognisable and universally respected of all Archibald winners. By the 1950s, reproductions of Namatjira’s watercolours of his Country adorned the walls of Australian middle-class homes.
Born at Ntaria (Hermannsburg) on Western Arrernte Country – and briefly tutored by artist Rex Battarbee – Namatjira laid the foundations for the Hermannsburg painting movement. Dargie admired his defiance of bureaucracy and exploitation. In 1957, Namatjira became the first Aboriginal person granted Australian citizenship. In 2020, his great-grandson, Vincent Namatjira, became the first Aboriginal artist to win the Archibald Prize.
This portrait by Dargie was painted in Sydney during a visit by Namatjira to the city. Despite his artistic success, Namatjira died broken-spirited, aged 57 years. His anguish and resilience perceptible in this portrait, which is now in the collection of Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art with the title Portrait of Albert Namatjira. It is one of two portraits of Namatjira in the Archibald Prize of 1956. The other is by Edna Garran-Brown.