Lot 48
  • 48

Artist Unknown Working 1948

7,000 - 10,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Artist Unknown
  • Untitled 
  • Inscribed TGH and numbered 28 on the reverse
  • Watercolour and pencil on paper
  • 39cm by 29.5cm


Theodor George Henry Strehlow; thence by descent
Private collection
Sotheby's, Aboriginal and Oceanic Art, 26 July 2010, lot 113
Private collection

Catalogue Note

“It is even possible that in two or three generations’ time, perhaps sooner, young Aboriginal artists may begin to use again spirals, lines and circles in a new geometrical form of abstract 'art'. T.G.H. Strehlow 1944 as quoted in Leonhard Adam, ‘Has Aboriginal Art a Future?’ in Angry Penguins, 1944, pp. 43-55.

The original collector of this drawing, Theodor George Henry Strehlow (1908-78) was the son of Carl Strehlow, the Lutheran missionary who established the mission at Hermannsburg, about eighty miles west of Alice Springs, in 1894. Theodor was born at Hermannsburg and grew up among the Western Arrernte people whose language he spoke fluently. He eventually trained as a linguist and worked among the peoples of the desert. Over the years Strehlow collected and recorded Arrernte songs and ancestral narratives, he photographed and filmed countless ceremonies and put together extensive collections of the material culture of the desert. His collections and his writings are now housed at the Strehlow Research Centre in Alice Springs.
At the time, a research tool favoured by some anthropologists was to provide people with western painting and drawing materials to map out their country, to illustrate ancestral chronicles, to analyse ceremonial practices and to decode the traditional Aboriginal graphic languages of signs and symbols. In 1932 Norman Tindale provided men at Mount Liebig, to the west of Hermannsburg, with crayons and paper for similar reasons. In the 1940s, the eminent Australian anthropologists Ronald and Catherine Berndt provided coloured crayons and brown paper to men at Birrundudu in the deserts of the Northern Territory and at Yirrkala in Arnhem Land. And the American anthopologist Mervyn Meggitt collected 169 crayon drawings by Warlpiri artists at Lajamanu (Hooker Creek) in 1953-54.
This drawing collected by Theodor Strehlow in 1948 depicts combinations of the types of designs found on traditional oval-shaped ritual objects. The compositions tend to be symmetrical; the concentric circles usually represent a site, a camp, a waterhole or a ceremonial area; the lines joining these may indicate a path or journey line between places, while the U-shapes represent people or ancestral beings.