Albert Namatjira (born Elea Namatjira; 28 July 1902 – 8 August 1959) was an Arrernte painter from the MacDonnell Ranges in Central Australia, widely considered one of the greatest and most influential Australian artists. As a pioneer of contemporary Indigenous Australian art, he was arguably one of the most famous Indigenous Australians of his generation. He was the first Aboriginal artist to receive popularity from a wide Australian audience.
A member of the Western Arrernte people, Namatjira was born and raised at the remote Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission, 126 km west-southwest from Alice Springs. He showed interest in art from an early age but it was not until 1934 (aged 32) and under the guidance of Rex Battarbee that he began to paint seriously. Namatjira's richly detailed, Western art-influenced watercolours of the outback departed significantly from the abstract designs and symbols of traditional Aboriginal art, and inspired the Hermannsburg School of painting. He became a household name in Australia and reproductions of his works hung in many homes throughout the nation.
In 1956, a portrait of Namatjira by William Dargie became the first of an Aboriginal person to win the Archibald Prize. Namatjira was awarded the Queen's Coronation Medal in 1953, and was honoured with an Australian postage stamp in 1968.
Namatjira was the first recorded[dubious – discuss] Northern Territory Aboriginal person to be freed from restrictions that made Aboriginal people wards of the state when he was granted British Subjecthood and Australian citizenship in 1957. This gave him the right to vote in national, state and territory elections, freedom of movement and freed him from restrictions on buying alcohol but, in the Northern Territory, he still had limited land rights. However, Namatjira remained poorly treated by the government; he was sentenced to prison after leaving a bottle of rum on the back seat of his car, which was likely taken and consumed by a man who had then drunkenly beaten and killed his own wife. Public and international outcry intervened in the liability ruling and Namatjira instead served less than two months in a native reserve in Papunya. He continued to live in Papunya with his wife, until he died of heart disease in an Alice Springs hospital in 1959.
Described as a "monumental figure" within Australian art, Namatjira is considered one of the most talented Arrernte artists to have lived. As one of the foremost painters of the Hermannsburg movement, he blended indigenous landscapes and Western-style painting techniques to "“bring central Australia to life, for thousands who had never seen it for themselves." His legacy lives on through international critical acclaim, the naming of his homeland's electorate after him, and his artistically inclined descendants. They form the artistic and memorial collective the Namatjira project, which includes his Ramsay Prize-winning great-grandson Vincent Namatjira.