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National Museum of Australia acquires a $1.2million artwork

[by Diana Streak]

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Michael Blanche with Jabanunga aka Goorialla (The Rainbow Serpent) by Rover Thomas: Image: NMA

The National Museum of Australia in Canberra has acquired a major $1.2-million artwork, Jabanunga aka Goorialla (The Rainbow Serpent), by the iconic late Kimberley artist, Rover Thomas.

Created in 1996, at the fledgling Warmun community art centre in Western Australia’s east Kimberley region, the monumental artwork by Rover Thomas, is considered one of the artist's most significant pieces.

Rover Thomas (1926-1998) began to paint in his early 50s after a lifetime working in the northern cattle industry. He quickly rose to prominence and, in 1990, just nine years after he created his first work, he represented Australia at the Venice Biennale.

The Jabanunga aka Goorialla (The Rainbow Serpent) depicts the Rainbow Serpent penetrating the Earth, following a subterranean journey to the sea in the wake of Cyclone Tracy’s destruction of the northern capital, Darwin, in 1973. Painted in natural ochres, the stunning canvas (2.7-metres x 1.8-metres) reflects a master artist at the peak of his powers.

The Jabanunga aka Goorialla (The Rainbow Serpent) was gifted to the National Museum under the federal government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Michael Blanche, Director of the Lauraine Diggins Fine Art Gallery in Victoria, in honour of his late wife Lauraine Diggins OAM, who passed away in 2019.

Lauraine Diggins, founding director of Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, was an internationally respected art dealer and influential champion of Indigenous art.

Michael Blanche said Lauraine was deeply committed.

“During her lifetime Lauraine was determined to do whatever she could and use her considerable influence to ensure that many of the important art works created in Australia and overseas became part of the national estate,” said Mr Blanche.

National Museum Council chair the Hon Warwick Smith AO, expressed gratitude to Mr Blanche for the generous gift in honour of his late wife and said future visitors to the Museum would be entranced by the painting.

“On behalf of the National Museum I’d like to express my enormous gratitude to Mr Blanche for the generous gift in honour of his late wife. I know that future visitors to the Museum will be entranced by this magnificent painting and the important cultural story that it depicts,” said Mr Smith.  

Head of the Museum's Indigenous Knowledges Curatorial Centre, Margo Ngawa Neale said the painting is exemplary in the way it speaks to the shared history between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.  It simultaneously draws on the ancestral power of Jabanunga (the Rainbow Serpent) while commenting on the natural and unnatural destructive forces of Cyclone Tracy and mining.

“This master work celebrates Indigenous knowledge, the contemporary relevance of ancestral stories, and furthers our understanding of the Dreaming as something continuous and ever present. It is portentously powerful as Rover masterly drew into its ancestral and spiritual domain,  issues of critical contemporary relevance around ecological,  environmental, climatic and political concerns,” said Ms Neale.

The work joins three other Rover Thomas paintings in the National Museum’s National Historic Collection (NHC).

Rover Thomas has a significant international reputation and is represented in other national and state public institutions across Australia including the National Gallery of Australia; the Art Gallery of WA; the National Gallery of Victoria; the Art Gallery of NSW; and the Art Gallery of South Australia.

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