Seeing the centre
The art of Albert Namatjira 1902–1959
Looking at land: the panoramic frame
When Albert Namatjira visited Sydney in 1956 as the guest of the writer Frank Clune, whose travel books helped popularise central Australia in the 1950s, he spent five consecutive mornings in the studio of well-known portrait painter, William Dargie.
While Dargie worked on his portrait of Namatjira (which subsequently won the Archibald Prize), the two men discussed art and artists. Dargie recalled Namatjira's critique of a well-known Australian painter, which revealed Namatjira's own commitment to pictorial realism, and his knowledge of the techniques needed to achieve it:
'He does not know how to make the side of a tree which is in the light look the same colour as the side of the tree in shadow. If you turn that picture upside down the mountain in the distance would look closer to you than the tree. That is not right, I know how to do it better.'
Namatjira would fill his brush with colour and return again and again to different areas of the composition with variant washes before moving to the next colour. This technique enabled him to hold all the elements of his composition in balance.
In many of Namatjira's paintings the tree ceases to be the sole focus and the painting combines multiple subjects into a single entity. Namatjira's familiarity with the use of a camera's viewfinder to look at landscape was undoubtedly one of the key factors in the development of the paintings that explore boundaries to vision, particularly where distant vistas are contained by geological forms or framed by trees.
Albert Namatjira Mount Sonder, MacDonnell Ranges c 1957-59 (detail), National Gallery of Australia, Canberra