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National Museum of Australia

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Sets> Old Masters barks Old Masters barks

Old Masters barks

Old Masters barks

This set features selected bark paintings from Arnhem Land, created in northern Australia by key Aboriginal artists ? Old Masters ? between 1948 and 1988. It profiles the different styles used by artists from Western, Central and Eastern Arnhem Land.

Bark paintings

Bark paintings are likely to have been produced across Arnhem Land for millenia. The oldest examples in museum collections date to the 1850s.

Wider recognition of bark paintings began in the late 1940s, when Aboriginal communities across Arnhem Land began to be visited by anthropologists and scientific expeditions. Often they focused on studying, describing and collecting the unique art being produced. They were soon followed by other collectors, both private and public, eager to see at firsthand the art of Arnhem Land, to meet its creators and to collect and sell their work. They took their art to new audiences in Australia and abroad.

The National Museum of Australia?s collection includes more than 2,000 bark paintings, many by significant artists. When these paintings were collected, many of these artists were little known outside of their communities.

Over the following decades, the work of these artists has attracted the attention of the art world and the public at large. Recent generations of Arnhem Land bark painters continue to build on their artistic heritage, taking their art in new directions while building on past achievements.

Arnhem Land

Arnhem Land lies in Australia?s subtropical north. Its physical environment varies from rocky escarpment in the west, wetlands in the centre, and savannah forests in the east. Chains of islands lead to the eastern coast of Arnhem Land and south to Blue Mud Bay.

From 1916 to the 1970s, government and church authorities established missions and settlements throughout the region.

After the introduction of land rights in 1976 many Aboriginal people returned to live on outstations on their traditional lands. The settlements continue to provide resources, including art centres for the outstations.