Details & Cataloguing

Aboriginal Art


Emily Kame Kngwarreye 1910-1996
Bears Delmore Gallery catalogue number 92I017 on reverse
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
152 by 121 cm
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Painted at Delmore Downs Station, Northern Territory for the Delmore Gallery in September 1992
Gallery Dettinger Mayer, Lyon, France
Stefano Spaccapietra Collection, Switzerland

Catalogue Note

Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s traditional lands are governed by two Emu ancestors from the Altyerre (Dreaming). Two Emu brothers, one at Artangkere (a swampy area) and the other at Alhalkere, a soak and freshwater rock hole, are the guardians of the Anmatyerre law who punish transgressors.1 Among the Anmatyerre, the ancestral stories and related rituals of the Emu Beings is the domain of men, however women perform ceremonies and paint about the Emu ancestors in the quotidian sense. One of the recurring themes in Kngwarreye’s art is the nurture of bush food on which emus thrive, such as the bush plum intekwe (Scaevola parvifolia), as part of the cycle of fertility in the land watered by seasonal rains. Ceremonies are performed in the late Australian spring to guarantee the profusion of intekwe and hence the abundance of emu that is one of the main sources of protein for desert peoples.

Purchased from a gallery in Lyon, this painting was the first work by Emily Kngwarreye acquired by Stefano Spaccapietra, which inspired him to travel to Australia in search of the finest examples he could acquire over the subsequent years, either directly from the Holt family's Delmore Gallery or via Sotheby's at auction.

According to the documentation accompanying the painting, Fertile Desert refers to emus scuttling between their nests in search of the variety of plants, bush fruit, berries and seeds on which they thrive. The painting is comparable to a number of works on the same theme, including the earlier Emu Woman of 1988-89 in the Janet Holmes à Court Collection, Emu Story, 1989, in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria and Emu All Over, 1990.2


1 Janet Holt in Isaacs, 1998, p.7

2 Emu Woman of 1988-89 is illustrated in Boulter, M., The Art of Utopia: A New Direction in Contemporary Aboriginal Art, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1991, p.66, plate 11, and in Neale, M (ed), Emily Kame Kngwarreye. Paintings from Utopia, Queensland Art Gallery and Macmillan, Brisbane, 1998, p.16, catalogue number 7, plate 8. Emu Story, 1989, and Emu All Over, 1990, are illustrated in Isaacs, J. et al., Emily Kngwarreye Paintings, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1998, p.45, plate 2, and p.53, plate 10 respectively.



Aboriginal Art