Lot 13
  • 13

Artist Unknown Working 1948-49

7,000 - 10,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Artist Unknown
  • Nadidjit Figure
  • Natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark
  • 48cm by 26cm


Painted at Oenpelli

Collected by the American/Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land in 1948-49 at Oenpelli in Western Arnhem Land

Mr Charles P. Mountford

Mr Dal Stivens, gifted from the above in August 1951

Private collection

Sotheby's, Aboriginal African and Oceanic Art, Sydney, 9 November, 1998, lot 109 (AU 629)

Fiona Brockhoff, Melbourne


Mountford, Charles, P., Records of the American/Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land – vol. 1., Art, Myth and Symbolism, 1956, Melbourne University Press, Victoria, p.192-3. Illus Pl.53b, p.193.

In 1948 and 1949, the National Geographic Society, Smithsonian Institute of Washington and the Commonwealth of Australia sponsored the largest expedition ever organised in the history of Australian research. It was planned, organised and lead by anthropologist Charles P. Mountford, then a member of staff of the Department of Information, with Frank Stezler of the Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institute as deputy leader.

The expedition set up campsites at Groote Eylandt, Yirrkala and Oenpelli documenting cave paintings, myths and songs and collecting bark paintings and artefacts. Mr Dal Stivens was on the staff of the Australian Department of Information from 1944-1951 and therefore it is presumed that he obtained this painting directly from C.P. Mountford. According to Mountford, this painting represents a Nadidjit man, who, “like many of the Mimi people live in the caves and clefts of the plateau. The Nadidjit, being more rotund than the cave-painting Mimi, cannot go through such small openings in the rocks. Although normally the Nadidjit do not attack the Aborigines, they are short tempered and likely to spear anyone who disturbs the game which they are stalking. The Nadidjit are particularly afraid of the Lightning Man, Namaragan, and should they be out food gathering when a thunder storm develops they run quickly to the shelter of the plateau caves.”

In an airmail letter addressed to Stivens from Mountford, dated 3 August, 1951, Mountford writes: “I am pleased that you like the bark painting I sent you. The figure refers to a harmless spirit being, called Noulabil, who lives in a hollow tree, not far from Oenpelli. Under ordinary conditions that is his home, but he is so afraid of... Namaragan.. that when a thunder-storm approaches the hollow tree in which Noulabil lives, he runs quickly into the rocks of the plateau for safety.”