Celebrating the indelible legacy and lasting importance of the Hermannsburg school of watercolourists, Watercolour Country: 100 works from Hermannsburg brings together the NGV’s significant holdings from this pivotal school of Australian art, including 77 never-before displayed works generously gifted to the NGV.
The exhibition features both historical and contemporary works by more than forty Arrernte, Western Arrernte and Kemarre/Loritja artists working at Hermannsburg from the 1930s to the present day, including Albert Namatjira, his sons Enos, Ewald, Gabriel and Oscar Namatjira, as well as significant figures from key artistic families, such as the Inkamala, Pareroultja, and Raberaba families.
Displaying familial generations together, the exhibition traces the artistic lineage of the families of artists living in and around Hermannsburg, mapping their relationships and revealing their mutual influence and affinities of colour, vibrancy and connection to Country.
Major exhibition highlights include new acquisitions by Albert Namatjira (1902-1959), pioneer of the Hermannsburg school and one of Australia’s most well-known artists, whose landscapes are synonymous with the Central Australian outback. Iconic works by Namatjira are on display, including Central Australia, MacDonnell Ranges 1958; Haast Bluff, Central Australia 1940s; and Finke River Gorge c. 1956.
While being celebrated as symbols of successful assimilation by the colonisers of Hermannsburg, Namatjira’s watercolours are imbued with the deep personal and spiritual connection Namatjira had with Country, demonstrating the unique and sometimes conflicting relationship the artist had with this predominantly Western form of artmaking.
The exhibition also includes the work of contemporary artists working in the Hermannsburg tradition, including Mona Lisa Clements and Clara Inkamala. Working collaboratively, eleven contemporary artists from Iltja Ntarra Arts Centre – including Clements, Vanessa Inkamala, Kathy Inkamala, Betty Namatjira and Selma Coulthard – have produced the three-metre suspended watercolour Woven in time 2022, displayed for the first time within the exhibition. The painted silks incorporate text and image in the depiction of Country and Community, and tell stories from the artists’ childhoods spent in Mparntwe and Ntaria.
Watercolour Country also celebrates the work of many artists who were active for more than half a century, such as Gerhard Inkamala and Cordula Ebatarinja. Ebatarinja is one of the only women from the same generation as Albert Namatjira to have a career as a painter and is shown in the exhibition alongside work by her husband and sons.
A master of depth and perspective, Ebatarinja’s stylised depictions of the landscape often incorporate dry and ochred rock formations alongside the lush green hues of Australia’s outback vegetation.
Representing the ethereal beauty of Arrernte Country and the cultural stories that are embedded within the landscape, the works on display traverse a range of enduring subjects, including distant eucalypt trees, blue mountains, rock formations, and slender ghost gums, as well as contemporary motifs and symbols that highlight the way depictions of Country have evolved since the 1930s.
“Through a rich display of both historical and contemporary works, this exhibition emphasises the indelible – and continuing – contributions of the Hermannsburg school of watercolourists to Australian and global art history,” said Tony Ellwood AM, Director NGV.
“The generous gift by the late Darvell M. Hutchinson of 77 watercolours has radically transformed the NGV’s holdings of works by the Hermannsburg school into one of the great strengths of our Australian First Nations art and design collection.”
“We are very grateful to the Hutchinson family for their longstanding support of the NGV and for entrusting us with this extraordinary collection of watercolours,” said Mr Ellwood.
“Our ancestors, from the Ntaria region, are very important for us because we carry their landscape painting legacy through our artworks. They started the landscape painting movement in the previous century, they liked this painting practice, and were happy to paint as a gift and legacy for the next generations,” said Vanessa Inkamala, one of the artists represented in the exhibition.
“We constantly learn from their images and paintings how our Country looked like in those early days, and how to improve our own practice. It’s important for us to show our paintings to all Australians and to share our knowledge of Country and place. We are proud of the Hermannsburg painting tradition and excited for it to be shared with the wider public,” said Inkamala.
Darvell M. Hutchinson was a former NGV Trustee and NGV Life Member, who had a keen interest in Australian Indigenous art and avidly collected works from the Hermannsburg school of art, creating an extraordinary legacy. Hutchinson dedicated much of his life to supporting philanthropic causes and was passionate about the power of giving.
Watercolour Country: 100 works from Hermannsburg
The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia at Fed Square, Melbourne
Exhibition continues to 17 March 2024
For more information, visit: www.ngv.melbourne for details.
Image: Albert Namatjira, MacDonnell Ranges at Heavitree Gap c.1950s National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Presented by Esso Australia Pty Ltd, 2018 © Namatjira Legacy Trust/Licensed by Copyright Agency, Australia – image courtesy of NGV