Front of the Gallery

About the Collection

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art

The Gallery was the first state art gallery to purchase the work of an Aboriginal artist in 1939, and in 1955, it was the first to commence strategically collecting Aboriginal art. Today the Gallery holds among the largest and most beautiful group of Arnhem Land objects collected by anthropologist, Charles Mountford between 1948 and 1952. In 1980, the Gallery was the first major art museum in Australia to acquire a Western Desert ‘dot’ painting and to display it in context with other non-Aboriginal twentieth-century art. Further wider collecting followed and the Gallery is now home to some of the rare defining paintings of the Aboriginal art movement, including Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri’s Man’s love story, 1978, Turkey Tolsen Tjupurrula’s Straightening spears at Ilyingaungau, 1990, and Rover Thomas’s Paruku (Lake Gregory), 1991. Other recent major acquisitions to the collection include John Mawurndjul’s Billabong at Milmilngkan, 2002, and Yala Yala Gibbs Tjungurrayi Man (Wati) ceremony, 1972. This remarkable Aboriginal art collection is now accessible online and has been made available through the generous support of Santos.

Following Santos' original commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art with the naming of the Santos Atrium in 1998, Santos has reinforced its commitment with a new five year sponsorship that commenced in 2009.  This new agreement encompasses a national touring exhibition, the purchase of a major bark painting by John Mawurndjul, and a commitment to display over 1,000 works in our online gallery.  Santos will also support three new Art Gallery publications and further career development of the Gallery's Indigenous curator.