Lot 22
  • 22

Yirawala circa 1905-1976

12,000 - 18,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Yirawala
  • Mimihs
  • On the reverse of the bark there is an original certificate, No. BP/12, with explanatory notes
  • Natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark
  • 65cm by 22.5cm


Likely to have been painted at Minjilang (Croker Island), Western Arnhem Land circa 1970

Sandra Le Brun Holmes, Darwin

Peter Natan Gallery, Denver, Colorado

Private Collection, USA

Sotheby’s, Fine Tribal and Aboriginal Bark Paintings, Sydney, 27-28 October 1996, lot 651

Fiona Brockhoff, Melbourne


Peter Natan Gallery, Denver, Colorado, December 1976

Catalogue Note

Cf. Wally Caruana et al., Old Masters, Australia’s Great Bark Artists, National Museum of Australia, Canberra, 2013, pp. 38-42, for illustrations of related works.

According to Caruana, “Yirawala is one of the major artists in Australian art history.  He played a leading role in promoting the acceptance of Aboriginal art as ‘art’ rather than simply as ‘ethnographic material’. Yirawala’s impetus to paint for the public stemmed from a need to reveal his culture to non-Indigenous Australians so it could be understood and respected. He was a gifted painter of high-ritual authority, which allowed him to innovation the art traditions of the Kunwinjku people” (ibid. p.38)

Often referred to as ‘The Picasso of Arnhem Land’, the National Gallery of Australia owns 143 bark paintings by Yirawala dating from the last two decades of his life. He was the first Indigenous artist to be collected by the National Gallery as part of a policy to represent, in depth, the most significant figures in Australian art. In 1971 he was awarded an MBE for services to Aboriginal Art, and awarded an International Art Co-operational Award, an award selected by the country’s leading artists, given to an artist whose work and influence had made an outstanding contribution to international understanding.

The documentation on the reverse reads: "The top panel shows Mimihs performing a rain dance. Bottom panel shows Mimihs calling out totemic names to announce their presence at a totemic centre. Yirawala says the Mimihs were once real men but were small and were there before present day Aborigines, and that they died and turned into little rock spirits called Mimihs. He says they began some of the big ceremonies like Maraian, and some only remembered in fragments now. He also says that they did some of the old pecked out drawings and others, that present day Aborigines, know nothing of."