The Hermannsburg School consolidated with broadened participation from 1949 to 1955, including two women. Their animate portrayals of stone topped hills, gaps and beautiful gum bordered creeks contradicted popular perceptions that Australia was only a lifeless desert at its centre. Energy seemed to emanate from the hills, the red rocky outcrops and the luminous plains. Marvellous ancient white trunked gums often presided like guardians.
Australians were surprised to experience directly the unprecedented outpouring of talent from numerous artists of a small and remote Indigenous community on a scale per head of population exceeding that for which any large white community would have been proud. Ntaria numbered only a few hundred people from babies to the aged.
From 1943 to 1960, some 60 young Arrernte men and two women joined with their tribal relative Albert Namatjira to form a distinctive Australian watercolour landscape painting movement. Half had careers as artists, while the others tried their hands or painted occasionally. They were born between 1902 and 1942. It was actually a movement for men, but in the 1950s two women painted with their husbands, one having a significant career and the other a limited career.
Cordula Ebatarinja asserted herself to become the first Australian Aboriginal woman to have a significant career as an artist. The movement reached its height in the 1960s with a resurgence after the drama and death of Albert Namatjira in 1959, but it lost its momentum in the 1970s.
The research and this manuscript arising from it is important because the popularisation of the Central Australian landscapes involved the first major art engagement of a small and unique Australian Indigenous community – Ntaria/Hermannsburg – with the contrasting general Australian community beyond. The author has charted a complete record of the years of activity of each artist. This manuscript comprises a complete representative record of the art.
See abbreviated Activity Chart and pattern of development of the Hermannsburg School.
Part One of the manuscript is about the background and circumstances which created the unique setting enabling the art to emerge. In the Christianised Arrernte mission community large bible pictures demonstrated the ‘truth’ of the Christian message by depicting the Crucifixion, for example.
Part Two is about the stages of development of the Hermannsburg School from its foundation in the 1940s, its consolidation in the early 1950s and its resurgence and redefinition in the 1960s and 1970s. The work of each of the artists is discussed in the order in which they started to paint seriously. Part Two presents the art of the pioneer Albert Namatjira and the other eleven founders, how the art movement and its success changed the circumstances of the artists and their relationship within the Mission community at Hermannsburg. Part Two continues by presenting the work of new artists emerging at the time of consolidation from the late 1940s to 1955.