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Lot 51: ALEC MINGELMANGANU , CIRCA 1905-1981 WANJINA Natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark

Est: $90,000 AUD - $120,000 AUD
Sotheby'sOctober 20, 2008Sydney, Australia

Item Overview


Natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark


114 by 74 cm

Artist or Maker


Collected by a doctor working on Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley for the last 35 years in 1979
Private Collection, Western Australia
Lawson-Menzies, Fine Aboriginal Art, Sydney, 23 November 2006, lot 9
Private Collection, Sydney
Sotheby's, Important Aboriginal Art, Melbourne, 24 July 2007, lot 31
Private collection


Cf. see Akerman, K., with J. E. Stanton, Riji and Jakuli: Kimberley pearl shell in Aboriginal Australia, Northern Territory Museum of Arts and Sciences, Darwin, 1994, p.57, plate 47, illus., for another bark painting of a Wanjina by the artist, dated 1975, framed in a similar fashion.

Mingelmanganu is renowned for the extraordinary life-size canvases depicting Wanjina that he painted in the last years of his life, as he set out to continue the custom of preserving and safeguarding the traditions of the ancestral Wanjina whose images appear on rock walls across the northern and western Kimberley. The artist, however, also produced a number of outstanding bark paintings of Wanjina. The technique of bark painting in the Kimberley is a relatively recent phenomenon: in the 1960s Charlie Numbulmoore, Wattie Karruwara and Mickey Bungkuni at Mowanjum had begun painting Wanjinas in ochres on board, paper and bark. However, the Rev. J.R.B. Love at Kunmunya Mission near Derby, commissioned bark paintings in the 1930s, as did the German anthropologist Helmut Petri who made a collection of barks for the Frobenius Institute, Frankfurt, in 1938-39.

As in Mingelmanganu's canvases of Wanjina, the figure displays the characteristic pointed shoulders, close set eyes and no mouth. The layers of red dashes against a white ground that cover the figure create a sparkling visual effect, enhanced by the sprays of white, to express the presence of ancestral power within the figure, and by extension, within the painting itself. This effect is likened to the lustre of the surfaces of pearl shells and is associated with health and well-being. The dashes could also represent rain and its life-giving forces. The dark shape on the figure's breast may represent a pearl shell pendant or the breastbone of the figure.

Wanjina set down the laws of social behaviour and are associated with the life-giving properties of water, bringing the monsoonal rains and distributing the spirits of the unborn to their clan waterholes. To ensure the continuation of the cycles of nature, it is the duty of the Wanjina's human descendants to preserve the images of Wanjina.

The cane frame attached to the bark is as much decorative as a means of protecting the bark support. It may be an adaptation of Arnhem Land technique of tying sticks to the sides of bark paintings to keep them flat, though may also derive from the curved string cross ceremonial structures that are danced on the shoulders of participants in ceremony in the north west Kimberley.

Auction Details

Aboriginal Art

October 20, 2008, 06:30 PM AEST

118-122 Queen Street Woollahra, Sydney, NSW, 2025, AU