Australian art

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Australian art is any art made in or about Australia, or by Australians overseas, from prehistoric times to the present. This includes Aboriginal, Colonial, Landscape, Atelier, early-twentieth-century painters, print makers, photographers, and sculptors influenced by European modernism, Contemporary art. The visual arts have a long history in Australia, with evidence of Aboriginal art dating back at least 30,000 years. Australia has produced many notable artists of both Western and Indigenous Australian schools, including the late-19th-century Heidelberg School plein air painters, the Antipodeans, the Central Australian Hermannsburg School watercolourists, the Western Desert Art Movement and coeval examples of well-known High modernism and Postmodern art.

Art Creative work to evoke emotional response

Art is a diverse range of human activities in creating visual, auditory or performing artifacts (artworks), expressing the author's imaginative, conceptual ideas, or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power. In their most general form these activities include the production of works of art, the criticism of art, the study of the history of art, and the aesthetic dissemination of art.

Australia Country in Oceania

Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands. It is the largest country in Oceania and the world's sixth-largest country by total area. The neighbouring countries are Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and East Timor to the north; the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to the north-east; and New Zealand to the south-east. The population of 25 million is highly urbanised and heavily concentrated on the eastern seaboard. Australia's capital is Canberra, and its largest city is Sydney. The country's other major metropolitan areas are Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, and Adelaide.

The prehistory of Australia is the period between the first human habitation of the Australian continent and the colonization of Australia in 1788, which marks the start of consistent documentation of Australia. This period is estimated to have lasted between 40,000 and 60,000 years, or longer.



Indigenous Australia

Bradshaw rock art in the Kimberley region of Western Australia Bradshaw rock paintings.jpg
Bradshaw rock art in the Kimberley region of Western Australia

The first ancestors of Aboriginal Australians are believed to have arrived in Australia as early as 60,000 years ago, and evidence of Aboriginal art in Australia can be traced back at least 30,000 years. [1] Examples of ancient Aboriginal rock artworks can be found throughout the continent. Notable examples can be found in national parks, such as those of the UNESCO listed sites at Uluru and Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory, and the Bradshaw rock paintings in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Rock art can also be found within protected parks in urban areas such as Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park in Sydney. [2] [3] [4] The Sydney rock engravings are approximately 5000 to 200 years old. Murujuga in Western Australia has the Friends of Australian Rock Art advocating its preservation, and the numerous engravings there were heritage listed in 2007. [5] [6]

Aboriginal Australians term used to refer to some groups of Indigenous Australians

Aboriginal Australians are the various indigenous peoples of the Australian mainland, Tasmania, and often the Tiwi people. This group contains many distinct peoples that have developed across Australia for over 50,000 years. These peoples have a broadly shared, though complex, genetic history, but it is only in the last two hundred years that they have been defined and started to self identify as a single group. The definition of the term "Aboriginal" has changed over time and place, with the importance of family lineage, self identification and community acceptance all being of varying importance. In the past, Aboriginal Australians lived over large sections of the continental shelf and were isolated on many of the smaller offshore islands when the land was inundated at the start of the inter-glacial. However, they are considered distinct from the Torres Strait Islander people, despite extensive cultural exchange.

UNESCO Specialised agency of the United Nations

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) based in Paris. Its declared purpose is to contribute to peace and security by promoting international collaboration in education, sciences, and culture in order to increase universal respect for justice, the rule of law, and human rights along with fundamental freedom proclaimed in the United Nations Charter. It is the successor of the League of Nations' International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation.

Uluru large sandstone rock formation in Australia

Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock and officially gazetted as Uluru / Ayers Rock, is a large sandstone rock formation in the southern part of the Northern Territory in central Australia. It lies 335 km (208 mi) south west of the nearest large town, Alice Springs.

In terms of age and abundance, cave art in Australia is comparable to that of Lascaux and Altamira in Europe, [7] and Aboriginal art is believed to be the oldest continuing tradition of art in the world. [8] There are three major regional styles: the geometric style found in Central Australia, Tasmania, the Kimberley and Victoria known for its concentric circles, arcs and dots; the simple figurative style found in Queensland; the complex figurative style found in Arnhem Land which includes X-Ray art. [9] These designs generally carry significance linked to the spirituality of the Dreamtime. [10]

Lascaux Cave in southwestern France famous for its Paleolithic cave paintings

Lascaux is the setting of a complex of caves near the village of Montignac, in the department of Dordogne in southwestern France. Over 600 parietal wall paintings cover the interior walls and ceilings of the cave. The paintings represent primarily large animals, typical local and contemporary fauna that correspond with the fossil record of the Upper Paleolithic time. The drawings are the combined effort of many generations, and with continued debate, the age of the paintings is estimated at around 17,000 years. Lascaux was inducted into the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list in 1979, as element of the Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère Valley.

Cave of Altamira Cave and archaeological site with prehistoric paintings in Spain

The Cave of Altamira is located near the historic town of Santillana del Mar in Cantabria, Spain. It is renowned for prehistoric parietal cave art featuring charcoal drawings and polychrome paintings of contemporary local fauna and human hands. The earliest paintings were applied during the Upper Paleolithic, around 36,000 years ago. The site was only discovered in 1868 by Modesto Cubillas.

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Banana Bender (colloquial)

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William Barak, Corroboree, 1895 William BARAK - Wurundjeri people - Corroboree - Google Art Project.jpg
William Barak, Corroboree, 1895

William Barak (c.1824-1903) was one of the last traditionally educated of the Wurundjeri-willam, people who come from the district now incorporating the city of Melbourne. He remains notable for his artworks which recorded traditional Aboriginal ways for the education of Westerners (which remain on permanent exhibition at the Ian Potter Centre of the National Gallery of Victoria and at the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery). Margaret Preston (1875–1963) was among the early non-indigenous painters to incorporate Aboriginal influences in her works. Albert Namatjira (1902–1959) is a famous Australian artist and an Arrernte man. His landscapes inspired the Hermannsburg School of art. [11] The works of Elizabeth Durack are notable for their fusion of Western and indigenous influences. Since the 1970s, indigenous artists have employed the use of acrylic paints - with styles such as the Western Desert Art Movement becoming globally renowned 20th-century art movements.

William Barak Indigenous Australian

William Barak, was the last traditional ngurungaeta (elder) of the Wurundjeri-willam clan, first inhabitants of present-day Melbourne, Australia. He became an influential spokesman for Aboriginal social justice and an important informant on Wurundjeri cultural lore.

Wurundjeri ethnic group

The Wurundjeri are indigenous descendants of the people of the Indigenous Australian nation of the Wurundjeri language group, in the Kulin alliance. They occupied the Birrarung Valley. Its tributaries are the present location of Melbourne.

National Gallery of Victoria Art museum in Melbourne, Australia

The National Gallery of Victoria, popularly known as the NGV, is an art museum in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Founded in 1861, it is Australia's oldest, largest and most visited art museum.

The National Gallery of Australia exhibits a great many indigenous art works, including those of the Torres Strait Islands who are known for their traditional sculpture and headgear. [12] The Art Gallery of New South Wales has an extensive collection of indigenous Australian art. In May 2011, the Director of the Place, Evolution, and Rock Art Heritage Unit (PERAHU) at Griffith University, Paul Taçon, called for the creation of a national database for rock art. [13] Paul Taçon launched the "Protect Australia’s Spirit" campaign in May 2011 with the highly regarded Australian actor Jack Thompson. [14] This campaign aims to create the very first fully resourced national archive to bring together information about rock art sites, as well as planning for future rock art management and conservation. The National Rock Art Institute would bring together existing rock art expertise from Griffith University, Australian National University, and the University of Western Australia if they were funded by philanthropists, big business and government. Rock Art Research is published twice a year and also covers international scholarship of rock art.

National Gallery of Australia Art museum in Australian Capital Territory, Australia

The National Gallery of Australia is the national art museum of Australia as well as one of the largest art museums in Australia, holding more than 166,000 works of art. Located in Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory, it was established in 1967 by the Australian government as a national public art museum.

Torres Strait Islands archipelago north of Australia

The Torres Strait Islands are a group of at least 274 small islands which lie in Torres Strait, the waterway separating far northern continental Australia's Cape York Peninsula and the island of New Guinea.

Art Gallery of New South Wales public gallery in Sydney

The Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), located in The Domain in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, is the most important public gallery in Sydney and one of the largest in Australia. The Gallery's first public exhibition opened in 1874. Admission is free to the general exhibition space, which displays Australian art, European and Asian art. A dedicated Asian Gallery was opened in 2003.

Colonial era

Early Western art in Australia, from 1788 onwards, is often narrated as the gradual shift from a European sense of light to an Australian one. The lighting in Australia is notably different from that of Europe, and early attempts at landscapes attempted to reflect this. It has also been one of transformation, where artistic ideas originating from beyond (primarily Europe) gained new meaning and purpose when transplanted into the new continent and the emerging society. [15]

British exploration and settlement (1770–1850)

George Stubbs, The Kongouro from New Holland, 1772 The Kongouro from New Holland (Kangaroo) NMM ZBA5754 (cropped).jpg
George Stubbs, The Kongouro from New Holland , 1772

The first artistic representations of the Australia scene by European artists were mainly natural history illustrations, depicting the distinctive flora and fauna of the land for scientific purposes, and the topography of the coast. Sydney Parkinson, the Botanical illustrator on James Cook's 1770 voyage that first charted the eastern coastline of Australia, made a large number of such drawings under the direction of naturalist Joseph Banks. Many of these drawings were met with skepticism when taken back to Europe, for example claims that the platypus was a hoax. In the form of copies and reproductions, George Stubbs' 1772 paintings Portrait of a Large Dog and The Kongouro from New Holland —depicting a dingo and kangaroo respectively—were the first images of Australian fauna to be widely disseminated in Britain.

Despite Banks' suggestions, no professional natural-history artist sailed on the First Fleet in 1788. Until the turn of the century all drawings made in the colony were crafted by soldiers, including British naval officers George Raper and John Hunter, and convict artists, including Thomas Watling. [16] However, many of these drawings are by unknown artists, most notably the Port Jackson Painter. Most are in the style of naval draughtsmanship, and cover natural history topics, specifically birds, and a few depict the infant colony itself.

John Glover, A View of the Artist's House and Garden, 1835 John Glover - A view of the artist's house and garden, in Mills Plains, Van Diemen's Land - Google Art Project.jpg
John Glover, A View of the Artist's House and Garden, 1835

Several professional natural-history illustrators accompanied expeditions in the early 19th century, including Ferdinand Bauer, who travelled with Matthew Flinders, and Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, who travelled with a French expedition led by Nicolas Baudin. The first resident professional artist was John Lewin, [16] who arrived in 1800 and published two volumes of natural history art. Ornithologist John Gould was renowned for his illustrations of the country's birds. [16] In the late 19th century Harriet and Helena Scott were highly respected natural history illustrators [17] Lewin's Platypus (1808) represents the fine detail and scientific observation displayed by many of these early painters.

As well as inspiration in natural history, there were some ethnographic portraiture of Aboriginal Australians, particularly in the 1830s. Artists included Augustus Earle in New South Wales [16] and Benjamin Duterrau, Robert Dowling and the sculptor Benjamin Law, recording images of Tasmanian Aborigines.

The most significant landscape artist of this era [15] was John Glover. Heavily influenced by 18th-century European landscape painters, such as Claude Lorraine and Salvator Rosa, his works captured the distinctive Australian features of open country, fallen logs, and blue hills. [18]

Conrad Martens (1801–1878) worked from 1835 to 1878 as a professional artist, painting many landscapes and was commercially successful. His work has been regarded as softening the landscape to fit European sensibilities. [16] His watercolour studies of Sydney Harbour are well regarded, and seen as introducing Romantic ideals to his paintings. [18] Martens is also remembered for accompanying scientist Charles Darwin on HMS Beagle (as had Augustus Earle).

Gold rushes and expansion (1851–1885)

Eugene von Guerard, North-east view from the northern top of Mount Kosciusko, 1863 Eugene VON GUERard - North-east view from the northern top of Mount Kosciusko - Google Art Project.jpg
Eugene von Guérard, North-east view from the northern top of Mount Kosciusko, 1863

From 1851, the Victorian Gold Rush resulted in a huge influx of settlers and new wealth. S. T. Gill (1818–1880) documented life on the Australian gold fields, [16] however the colonial art market primarily desired landscape paintings, which were commissioned by wealthy landowners or merchants wanting to record their material success. [19]

William Piguenit's (1836–1914) "Flood in the Darling" was acquired by the National Gallery of New South Wales in 1895. [20]

Some of the artists of note included Eugene von Guerard, Nicholas Chevalier, William Strutt, John Skinner Prout and Knut Bull.

Louis Buvelot was a key figure in landscape painting in the later period. He was influenced by the Barbizon school painters, and so using a plein air technique, and a more domesticated and settled view of the land, in contrast to the emphasis on strangeness or danger prevalent in earlier painters. This approach, together with his extensive teaching influence, have led his to dubbed the "Father of Landscape Painting in Australia". [18]

A few attempts at art exhibitions were made in the 1840s, which attracted a number of artists but were commercial failures. By the 1850s, however, regular exhibitions became popular, with a variety of art types represented. The first of these exhibitions was in 1854 in Melbourne. An art museum, which eventually became the National Gallery of Victoria, was founded in 1861, and it began to collect Australian works as well as gathering a collection of European masters. Crucially, it also opened an Art School, important for the following generations of Australian-born and raised artists.

H. J. Johnstone, a professional photographer and student of Buvelot, painted the large-scale bush scene Evening Shadows (1880), the first acquisition of the Art Gallery of South Australia and possibly Australia's most reproduced painting. [21]

Australian impressionists (1885–1900)

John Russell, Vincent van Gogh, 1886 Vincent van Gogh - s0273V1962 - Van Gogh Museum.jpg
John Russell, Vincent van Gogh , 1886

The origins of a distinctly Australian painting tradition is often associated with the Heidelberg School of the late 19th century. Named after a camp Tom Roberts and Arthur Streeton established in Heidelberg (then a rural suburb on the outskirts of Melbourne), these painters, together with Frederick McCubbin, Charles Conder [22] and others, began an impressionistic plein air approach to the Australian landscape that remains embedded in Australia's popular consciousness, both in and outside the art world.

Many of their most famous works depict scenes of pastoral and outback Australia. Central themes of their art include manual labour, conquering the land, [15] and an idealisation of the rural pioneer. [18] By the 1890s most Australians were city-dwellers, as were the artists themselves, and a romantic view of pioneer life gave great power and popularity to images such as Shearing the Rams . [18] In this work Roberts uses formal composition and strong realism to dignify the shearers [18] whilst the relative anonymity of the men and their subdued expressions, elevate their work as the real subject, rather that the specific individuals portrayed. [15]

In their portrayal of the nobility of rural life, the Heidelberg artists reveal their debt to Millet, Bastien-Lepage and Courbet, but the techniques and aims of the French Impressionists provide more direct inspiration and influenced their actual practise. In their early and extremely influential Exhibition of 9 by 5 Impressions of small sketches, their impressionistic programme was clear, as evidenced from their catalogue: "An effect is only momentary: so an impressionist tries to find his place... it has been the object of artists to render faithfully, and thus obtain first records of effects widely differing, and often of very fleeting character." [18]

Other significant painters associated with the Heidelberg painters were Walter Withers, who won the inaugural Wynne Prize in 1896, [22] and Jane Sutherland, a student of McCubbin. Born and raised in Sydney, impressionist John Russell spent much of his career in Europe, where he befriended the likes of Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet. He also wrote letters home to his friend, Tom Roberts, updating him on developments in French impressionism.


Federation era (1901–1914)

E. Phillips Fox, The Ferry, 1911 E Phillips Fox - The ferry - Google Art Project.jpg
E. Phillips Fox, The Ferry, 1911

In 1901, the six self-governing Australian colonies federated to form a unified nation. Artists such as Hans Heysen and Elioth Gruner built on the Australian landscape tradition of the Heidelberg painters, creating grand, nationalist pastoral landscapes. Others moved on to successful careers in London and Paris, such as Rupert Bunny and Hugh Ramsay.

List of artists

Art museums and galleries in Australia

National Gallery of Victoria. National Gallery of Victoria, Entrance sign.jpg
National Gallery of Victoria.
Picture of Albert Namatjira at the Albert Namatjira Gallery, Alice Springs Cultural Precinct, in 2007. Namatjira0384.jpg
Picture of Albert Namatjira at the Albert Namatjira Gallery, Alice Springs Cultural Precinct, in 2007.


Australia has major art museums and galleries subsidised by the national and state governments, as well as private art museums and small university and municipal galleries. The National Gallery of Australia, the Gallery of Modern Art and the Art Gallery of New South Wales have major strengths in collecting the art of the Asia Pacific Region. Others include the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, which has a significant Australian collection of Western art. Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney and the privately owned Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania and White Rabbit Gallery in Sydney are widely regarded as autonomously discerning collections of international contemporary art.

Other institutions include the Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide, Newcastle Art Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery of Australia, the National Museum of Australia, the Canberra Museum and Gallery, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in Hobart, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory in Darwin, and the Art Gallery of Western Australia in Perth. The State Library of New South Wales holds a significant collection comprising over a quarter of a million artworks many from the Colonial period. More material is held by other National and State libraries.

Art market

The boom and bust cycle in contemporary art is evident in the 1980s colonial art boom ending at the time of the 1987 stock market crash and the exit of many artists and dealers, followed by the 2000s boom in Aboriginal dot painting and Australian late modernist painting, which ended at the time of the global financial crisis and growing collector and public interest in the international contemporary art circuit.

A 5% resale royalty scheme commenced in 2010 under which artists receive 5% of the sale price when eligible artworks are resold commercially for $1000 or more. Between 10 June 2010 and 15 May 2013, the scheme generated over $1.5 million in royalties for 610 artists. [23] Some buyers object to paying any resale royalty while others do not mind a royalty going directly to the artists. However, they worry about further red tape and bureaucratic interference.

In 2014/15 there was a rediscovery of colonial art at auction. Affordable 20th-century rural scene painting is buoyant. While the inflated northern hemisphere art markets had anticipating a massive correction in the Australian art market which transitioned to the middle market.

Socially oriented art events such as art fairs and biennials have continued to grow in size and popularity in the contemporary art scene. The smaller commercial galleries have struggled to remain in business in the 2010s in spite of a functioning economy, although there is little consensus on the reasons for this.

Australian visual arts in other countries

The museum for Australian Aboriginal art "La grange" [24] (Neuchâtel, Switzerland) is one of the few museums in Europe that dedicates itself entirely to Aboriginal art.

See also

Related Research Articles

Albert Namatjira Australian painter

Albert Namatjira, born Elea Namatjira, was a Western Arrernte-speaking Aboriginal artist from the MacDonnell Ranges in Central Australia. As a pioneer of contemporary Indigenous Australian art, he was the most famous Indigenous Australian of his generation.

Indigenous Australian art art made by the indigenous peoples of Australia

Indigenous Australian art or Australian Aboriginal art is art made by the Indigenous peoples of Australia and in collaborations between Indigenous Australians and others. It includes works in a wide range of media including painting on leaves, wood carving, rock carving, sculpting, ceremonial clothing and sand painting. This article discusses works that pre-date European colonisation as well as contemporary Indigenous Australian art by Aboriginal Australians. These have been studied in recent years and have gained much international recognition.

Heidelberg School Australian art movement

The Heidelberg School was an Australian art movement of the late 19th century. The movement has latterly been described as Australian Impressionism.

Tom Roberts Australian artist

Thomas William "Tom" Roberts was an English-born Australian artist and a key member of the Heidelberg School, also known as Australian Impressionism. After attending art schools in Melbourne, he travelled to Europe in 1881 to further his training, and returned home in 1885, "primed with whatever was the latest in art". He did much to promote en plein air painting and encouraged other artists to capture the national life of Australia. While he is best known for his "national narratives", among them Shearing the Rams (1890), A break away! (1891) and Bailed Up (1895), he also achieved renown as a portraitist.

Louis Buvelot Swiss painter and photographer

Louis Buvelot, born Abram-Louis Buvelot, was a Swiss-born landscape painter who emigrated to Australia in 1865 and influenced the Heidelberg School of painters.

Arthur Streeton Australian artist

Sir Arthur Ernest Streeton was an Australian landscape painter and leading member of the Heidelberg School, also known as Australian Impressionism.

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The Hermannsburg School is an art movement, or art style, which began at the Hermannsburg Mission in the 1930s. The best known artist of the style is Albert Namatjira. The movement is characterised by watercolours of western-style landscapes that depict the often striking colours of the Australian outback.

The Arts in Australia refers to the art produced in the area of, on the subject of, or by the people of the Commonwealth of Australia and its preceding Indigenous and colonial societies. Indigenous Australian art, music and story telling attaches to a 40–60,000-year heritage and continues to affect the broader arts and culture of Australia. During its early western history, Australia was a collection of British colonies, therefore, its literary, visual and theatrical traditions began with strong links to the broader traditions of English and Irish literature, British art and English and Celtic music. However, the works of Australian artists – including Indigenous as well as Anglo-Celtic and multicultural migrant Australians – has, since 1788, introduced the character of a new continent to the global arts scene – exploring such themes as Aboriginality, Australian landscape, migrant and national identity, distance from other Western nations and proximity to Asia, the complexities of urban living and the "beauty and the terror" of life in the Australian bush.

Yannima Tommy Watson Pitjantjatjara-speaking Indigenous Australian artist

Yannima Tommy Watson known as Tommy Watson was an Indigenous Australian artist, of the Pitjantjatjara people from Australia’s central western desert. He was described by one critic as "the greatest living painter of the Western Desert".

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Bronwyn Bancroft Australian artist and fashion designer

Bronwyn Bancroft is an Australian artist, notable for being amongst the first Australian fashion designers invited to show her work in Paris. Born in Tenterfield, New South Wales, and trained in Canberra and Sydney, Bancroft worked as a fashion designer, and is an artist, illustrator, and arts administrator.

Daisy Jugadai Napaltjarri was a Pintupi-Luritja-speaking Indigenous artist from Australia's Western Desert region, and sister of artist Molly Jugadai Napaltjarri. Daisy Jugadai lived and painted at Haasts Bluff, Northern Territory. There she played a significant role in the establishment of Ikuntji Women's Centre, where many artists of the region have worked.

Ngoia Pollard Napaltjarri is a Walpiri-speaking Indigenous artist from Australia's Western Desert region. Ngoia Pollard married Jack Tjampitjinpa, who became an artist working with the Papunya Tula company, and they had five children.

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<i>Warlugulong</i> Acrylic on canvas painting by Indigenous Australian artist Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri

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Kaapa Mbitjana Tjampitjinpa was a contemporary Indigenous Australian artist of Anmatyerre, Warlpiri and Arrernte heritage. One of the earliest and most significant artists at Papunya in Australia's Northern Territory in the early 1970s, he was a founding member and inaugural chairman of the Papunya Tula artists company, and pivotal to the establishment of modern Indigenous Australian painting.

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