From Arthur Boyd and Brett Whiteley to Albert Namatjira, these are some of the most famous Australian artists. The list doesn't end there. We’re giving you a list of the ten most famous Australian artists. The works of these famous Australian artists can be found all over the world, but most importantly in galleries and museums in Australia.
While there may be some in this list you may know, there may be others you may not, and many more we didn’t have a chance to include. Without further ado, here are our favourite ten artists.
One of the most famous Australian artists in the twentieth-century was Sidney Nolan. Nolan depicted myth and history in his artworks. He is perhaps best known for his depictions of the famous Australian icon Ned Kelly, a bushranger and outlaw. He painted other figures featured in Australian history, including Eliza Fraser and the explorers Burke and Wills. Colours run rich through Nolan’s paintings. He studied at the National Gallery of Victoria’s School of Art from 1934-1936. French culture inspired Nolan from a young age, and he also studied the works of Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, and the Surrealists.
Ned Kelly series
From 1946-1947, Nolan created a Ned Kelly series that was 27 paintings large, depicting the life and death of the outlaw gang leader. The paintings show Kelly in his iconic homemade armour, which is superimposed on the Australian landscape. Nolan’s inspiration for the series was not only the life of Kelly but the artworks of the avant-garde painter Henri Rousseau.
Source: Art Gallery of NSW
Arthur Boyd was a skilled painter and potterer. He came from a family of artists and learnt to paint from his parents and his grandfather in Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula. Boyd was enlisted in the army but did not see active duty. Despite this, the war provided ample subject matter for the artist. Boyd travelled through outback Australia and was deeply impacted by the marginalised Aboriginal groups and painted dozens of works to depict their exploitation. When he moved to London, England, Boyd didn’t stop depicting the Australian landscape. He went on to become one of the most famous Australian artists.
Love, marriage and death of a half-caste series
In the 1950s, Boyd travelled around central Australia, where the exploitation of Aboriginal people living in Alice Springs shocked the young artist. As a result of these travels, Boyd created more than 40 paintings in a series aptly titled Love, marriage and death of a half-caste (also known as the Brides), a reaction to how appalled he felt at their treatment. The series, exhibited in Melbourne in 1958, raised issues about the ongoing marginalisation of Aboriginal people by the oppressive white population.
Emily Kame Kngwarreye
Emily Kame Kngwarreye began painting late in her life. At 80, she became an overnight sensation on the national and international stage. Born at the beginning of the twentieth century, Kngwarreye grew up in a remote desert area 230 kilometres northeast of Alice Springs, in an area known as Utopia. She was an Anmatyerre elder, and her cultural life inspired much of her work. Emily represented Alhalkere in her work. According to the National Museum of Australia, “Alhalkere are her cultural legacy to the world.”
Anwerlarr anganenty (1995)
One of the main features of Kngwarreye’s work is the yam plant. In Anwerlarr anganenty (Big yam Dreaming), Kngwarreye depicts the plant through dense lines balanced on a backdrop of black. For the Aboriginal people of the desert, the yam plant was a vital source of food. Kngwarreye often painted the yam tracking lines. The yam was significant to her; and Kame, her middle name, means the yellow flower of the yam.
The landscape painter Tom Roberts painted en plein air, a la the Impressionists. Roberts was the leader of the Australian Impressionists, formed together under the name of the Heidelberg school. Roberts’s paintings included subjects of rural labour and the bush. It was a trip to Spain where he was introduced to the principles of Impressionism by the Spanish artists Lorreano Barrau and Ramon Casas. His travels through New South Wales and Queensland served as fodder for his paintings. Filled with historical and dramatic qualities, the environment was depicted many times over in Roberts’s body of work.
The Golden Fleece (1894)
One of the most iconic paintings of Australian rural life is Roberts’s The Golden Fleece, painted while he was staying at Newstead Station in northern NSW. The painting’s title comes from the Greek myth, in which the band of heroes, the Argonauts, voyaged in search of the Golden Fleece, a golden-wooled, winged ram. The painting’s shearers were consciously idealised by Roberts, who considered these labour workers as ‘heros’. On depicting pastoral life, Roberts has said, “being in the bush and feeling the delight and fascination of the great pastoral life and work I have tried to express it”.
Birds, eggs, and warped portraits – these are all the markings of a Salvador Dali painting, except they aren’t. They’re fixtures of the famous Australian artist Brett Whiteley’s paintings, which have an unmistakable psychedelic touch to them. Whiteley worked across multiple mediums besides painting. He was a printmaker, sculptor, writer, draughtsman and was influenced not only by the Australian landscape but other countries he briefly resided in, such as England, Fiji, Italy, and the United States.
Self-portrait in the Studio (1976)
The first thing you may notice in Self-portrait in the Studio is the wash of Ultramarine blue. The colour dominates the walls of Brett Whiteley’s studio as depicted in the painting. In the painting, Whiteley’s face can be seen reflected in a hand mirror, with the body of his wife Wendy lounging on a bed. The painting has a dark side to it, which Whiteley explains “... he was warning himself and other people watching. It was the cage of his interior, his addiction, the window or a glimpse of possible escape into paradise: the escape from one's psyche.” In 1976, the painting won the Archibald Prize.
Source: Queensland Art Gallery
Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira was known for his watercolour paintings of the Australian landscape. He was a traditional custodian of the Western Arrernte lands and depicted the area majestically in his artworks. At 32 years old, Namatjira learnt how to paint under the guidance of Rex Battarbee. Namatjira’s art is different to other Aboriginal art as they are in the western style. Namatjira became highly acclaimed and famous, leading to him and his wife being granted Australian citizenship.
Central Australian Gorge (1940)
On thick wove paper, Namatjira painted the detailed rendering rocks of the gorge and reflections in the pristine water in between. The rocks are of mammoth side and the terrain rugged. In the distance is a sun, setting or rising. The artwork, which is created using watercolour, gouache and pencil, is immensely colour like much of Namatjira’s work.
Tracey Moffatt is known for her famous Australian art made in film and photography. Her subjects reference the history of art and photography and personal history, such as childhood memories. She explores race, gender, sexuality, and identity issues. Moffatt’s work is well-known throughout Australia and the wider world, and has held over 100 solo exhibitions. Apart from photography, she has made feature films such as Nightcries – A Rural Tragedy (1989) and Bedevil (1993).
Moffatt’s work is both painful and full of humour. It touches on subjects from her personal life, her personal history. With her series Laudanum, Moffatt engages with a topic close to home, the confusions of racism. The series was shot in a colonial mansion, with the series being named after a popular opiate-based drug. Laudanum depicts sexual violence between a white mistress and her maid, who is Asian. The series touches on Moffatt’s skill of cinematic visuals and literary devices.
The Australian painter, performance artist and writer Ivan Durrant will raise the hair on your arm. Although, his art is more than just shock, (see Slaughtered Cow Happening (1975)). Durrant is revered for his realism and photorealism. Thanks to his preference of shock value, he has been dubbed Australia’s enfant terrible. His subjects range from farm cows to movie stars and musicians.
Johnny O’Keefe “A Little Bit Louder Now…” (1999)
From shocking the public with cows to painting dreamy pop stars, Ivan Durrant knows no limits. He paints the portrait of Johnny O’Keefe, Australia’s first rock and roll star, using synthetic polymer paint on board. At only thirteen, Durrant first saw O’Keefe when he performed on television.
Fiona Hall is a photographer, sculptor, and has also worked in installation, moving image, and garden design. Hall’s artwork explores the ideas of the intersection of environment, politics and exploitation. She studied in Sydney and Rochester in New York, and, from 1983-2002, has been a lecturer at the University of South Australia.
Paradisus terrestris entitled (1989-1990)
Fiona Hall created a series of fifteen sardine cans in an artwork called Paradisus terrestris. Hall uses sardine tins to form sculptures depicting botanical specimens. Something as dull as a sardine can has been utterly transformed into something divine. The artwork is a collision between culture and nature.
Cecil John Brack
Source: ABC News
Born in South Melbourne in 1920, Cecil John Brack was a realist painter who depicted the complexities of modern urban life. His paintings are known for their rigid figures lacking emotion and stark lines. Brack became Head of the National Gallery School from 1962-1968. Brack has said, “If something is true, its opposite is also true. What I see is always at least a little off balance.”
The Bar (1954)
In the fashion of Edouard Manet’s famous A Bar at the Folies-Bergere (1882), Brack paints a suburban Melbourne bar in The Bar. It’s Brack’s largest painting. Staring straight at the spectator is a woman looking rigid and mannequin-like, wearing a thin smile. In the background, workers look nearly identical to one another, drinking, with urgency. The urgency comes down to the six o’clock closing time, known as the ‘six o’clock swill’, which was enforced until 1966 in all Melbourne pubs. Drink up, boys!