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The hills beyond Hermannsburg

Showcasing 36 works from the Gallery's Indigenous collection

Lenie Namatjira Mt Sonder Lookout 2009, watercolour on cardboard, purchased with funds provided by Niall and Freya Edwards FitzSimons 2009

The hills beyond Hermannsburg explores the extraordinary landscape paintings of central Australia by Aboriginal artists in the Gallery’s collection. Central to the exhibition are works by the founders of the Hermannsburg movement, Albert Namatjira and Otto Pareroultja. Also included in the exhibition will be the first artwork by an Aboriginal artist purchased for the Gallery’s collection, Amulda Gorge by Edwin Pareroultja.

Their realistic representations of valleys, ranges and ubiquitous gum trees show an intimate connection to country that has informed numerous artists, including the late Billy Benn Perrurle with his paintings of the hills of his homelands and the more recent works of Ivy Pareroutlja with their highly keyed colour.

Hermannsburg, or Ntaria as it is known locally, is to the west of Mparntwe (Alice Springs) in the Central Desert region of Australia. Ntaria is on Western Arrernte country and in 1877 was the location chosen by Lutheran missionaries for the establishment of Hermannsburg mission, the first Aboriginal mission in the Northern Territory.

Albert Namatjira was born here in 1902 and in 1934 he was introduced to watercolour painting by the artists Rex Battarbee and John Gardner. In 1936 Namatjira received further technical advice from Battarbee during two camping trips on Namatjira’s country. Namatjira soon began painting detailed images of his country, capturing the intimate changes in the landscape that came with the changing seasons or times of the day and documenting his artistic, cultural and proprietorial claim on his land.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s many of Namatjira’s peers including Walter Ebatarinja, Otto Pareroultja, Edwin Pareroultja, Claude Pannka, Benjamin Landara and Richard Moketarinja began painting with watercolours, resulting in a distinct style commonly referred to as the Hermannsburg school or movement. Initially thought of as having succumbed to European pictorial idioms – and for that reason, to ideas of European privilege over the land – these landscapes have since been re-evaluated as coded expressions of traditional sites and sacred knowledge.

This intimate connection to country continues to be explored by the children and grandchildren of the founding artists who offer innovation within this style of painting today. The Hermannsburg movement has also influenced other artists from neighbouring language groups to explore representational views of the landscape, such as the late Billy Benn Perrurle, an Eastern Arrernte man who captured the hills of his homelands in gestural brushstrokes, and Alison Walbungara, Vanessa Splinter and Tristam Malbunka, whose prints offer an alternate interpretation of the hills of Arrernte country.

On view
22 Mar – 2 Jun 2014
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain, Sydney


Media contact

Susanne Briggs
Tel 02 9225 1791
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