Rover Thomas (Joolama), Untitled (Rainbow Serpent), circa. 1986
Lot 13
Rover Thomas (circa 1926-1998) Untitled (Rainbow Serpent)
Sold for AU$ 72,000 (US$ 67,302) inc. premium
Auction Details
Lot Details
Rover Thomas (circa 1926-1998)
Untitled (Rainbow Serpent)
natural earth pigments and natural binder (bush gum) on canvas
92 x 87cm (36 1/4 x 34 1/4in).


    Painted at Warmun (Turkey Creek) circa 1986
    Acquired directly from the artist by the vendor
    Private collection
    Sotheby's, Aboriginal Art, Melbourne, 9 July 2001, lot 51
    Private collection

    Cf. See Wungurr is the name for that Snake, 1983 in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, in Rover Thomas with Kim Akerman, Mary Macha, Will Christensen and Wally Caruana, Roads Cross: The paintings of Rover Thomas, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 1994, p.28.

    Although the identity of this Rainbow Serpent is not specified, it is likely to be an image of one of the two ancestral snakes that feature in the painted boards used in the Kurirr Kurirr ceremony. The ritual interprets the destruction of the city of Darwin in 1974 by Cyclone Tracy, which then moved across to the eastern Kimberley. Here the roads flooded by the teeming rains of the cyclone caused a car accident in which Thomas' classificatory mother was fatally injured. The spirit of this woman revealed to Thomas the Kurirr Kurirr ritual and its associated song cycles and graphic images that were painted onto boards carried by ceremonial participants. Hence, the image refers to one of two beings: either the Rainbow Serpent Unggud (also known as Wungkul or Wungurr) who, in the guise of the cyclone destroyed Darwin; or Juntarkal, the Rainbow Serpent whose home is a whirlpool off the coast of Broome in the western Kimberley, above which Thomas' mother passed away as she was being flown to hospital after the car crash near Turkey Creek in the east.

    The painting features Thomas' characteristically intuitive compositional lines and bold graphic quality. The form of the snake appears to be partially dictated by the shape of the canvas support much in the way that similar subjects are composed in bark paintings in Western Arnhem Land.

    Wally Caruana

Saleroom notices

  • The painting in faintly inscribed 'Rover' in top right corner which is visible in the catalogue photograph.
  1. Francesca Cavazzini
    Specialist - Aboriginal Art
    76 Paddington Street
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