Untitled (Ceremony), c.1953 inscribed verso with 'Dr R.C. Cockerill', artist's name and title natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark 46.0 x 67.5cm (18 1/8 x 26 9/16in).
PROVENANCE Private collection, acquired from an exhibition in Geraldton, Western Australia, 1954 Sotheby's, Fine Aboriginal and Contemporary Art, Melbourne, 17 June, 1996, lot 6, as Nambadjieadja The Collection of Milton and Alma Roxanas, Sydney
In 1921 the Church Missionary Society established itself on Groote Eylandt. In the early days the missionaries on the island began requesting that the artists produce small, secular works depicting single animals that they could collect and sell. Later developments in the 1960s onwards led to larger paintings with multiple figures (R. Crumlin and A, Knight, Aboriginal Art and Spirituality, Melbourne: Dove Publications, 1995, p.30). Nandjiwarra in particular, surpassed all others, often executing complex and detailed narratives relating to traditional ceremonies and spiritual subjects. In fact, numerous series by the artist are known including four sets of narratives from the 1950s relating the seventeen stages of Death on Groote Eylandt collected by the Rev. L. M. Howellin now the collection of the National Gallery of Australia.
In this work, Nandjiwarra has created a dynamic ceremonial scene. The movement is heightened by the gestural, feathered brushstrokes in white and yellow ochre surrounding the dancing figures signifying the impact of the dancer's soles on the ceremonial ground. The stars painted in yellow ochre and tipped with white heightened against a black background appear to twinkle in the sky. The larger celestial form around which the figures dance is most likely the Morning Star.
The Milky Way and the constellations is a common theme and can frequently be found in the works of Nandjiwarra. His subjects include The Spirits of the Morning Star Dancing in The Daylight, 1964, How the Stars were Made, c.1960 (previously in the collection of William McE Miller Jr exhibited in The Art of Arnhem Land: From the Collection of William McE. Miller, Jr, The Taylor Museum of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 1966) and The Creation of the Constellation Wuripiremba in the National Museum of Australia (attributed to Wandjiwara).
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