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David Yirawala

43 Career Overall Rank

- 2016 Market Rank

  • Born: 1903 - 1976
  • Active: 1960-1976

  • Region: Central Arnhem Land, NT
  • Community: Maningrida, Minjilang, Minjilang, Minjilang
  • Outstation: Croker Island, Marrkolidjban, Marrkolidjban
  • Language: Kunwinjku

Yirawala: Painter of the Dreaming

While Sandra Holmes played an important role in supporting Yirawala during the later part of his career as a painter, it is interesting to note that seven of the top eight results for his works have been for paintings created prior to their agreement over the distribution of his works. This may make some sense, given her fastidious accumulation of his paintings into such a large permanent collection which was later sold to the NGA. His ten highest records range from $22,800 to $49,850 of which two were sold in 1997 and two in 1998 and it is likely that, other than truly spectacular images, Yirawala’s works are no more valuable now than they were ten years ago. By way of example, a large bark for this artist measuring 128 x 53 cm in size, entitled Sacred Bird c.1965, sold in Sotheby’s June 1998 sale for $26,450 and yet only received $17,250 when offered for sale again two years later. In comparison Yirawala’ssecond highest priced painting, the quirky 10 Mimih’s c. 1959, is full of movement and joyous expression. This smaller work, 87.5 x 59.5 cm, showed an increase of $22,600 over its 1999 price at Sotheby’s when it achieved $49,850 in their July 2003 sale. The collector, who more than doubled his money in just three years would have been very happy indeed.

Attempts to push his prices through unrealistically high estimates have failed in a market that has been quite flat for bark paintings of this period other than those with the most engaging images and superb provenance. Lumah Lumah’s Daughters c.1963, a small bark of 43 x 20 cm, failed to sell in Sotheby’s 1997 auction with hefty estimate of $15,000-$20,000. It failed once more in their 2002 sale despite being more realistically priced at $7,000-10,000. Finally it achieved $8,000 at Sotheby’s in July 2004. This was most dramatically underscored in 2008 when no less than 11 works were offered and only three sold. Remarkably every single one of the 11 works were offered through Sotheby’s and while the two most successful equalled his 10th, and set his 11th highest records, no less than five works with low estimates in excess of $20,000 failed to find buyers. It was a disastrous year at auction for works by such a great artist and resulted in his career clearance rate dropping from 69% to 65%.

During the years when no less than five of his works were sold at auction, the average prices peaked in 1997 at $18,400, and then in 2003 at $23,908. These spikes in prices in 2003 and 1997 were principally due to his two highest results occurring during each of those years. With the effect of these discounted, his prices have remained remarkably stable throughout the period. In 1998 the average fell to $14,704 followed by $14,390 in the following year before the 2003 peak. Prices fell once more to an average $14,975 in 2004 with three paintings passed in.

In general, prices for premium pieces have risen slowly while less interesting and stilted works have fallen in value. Those works painted c.1958-1960 have had more success at auction than later works. However, in all probability, as neither the number of works nor the length of time statistics have been gathered on this artist has really been long enough to judge accurately, it is likely that the image rather than the cultural story, or the period painted, is the important factor in the sale price.

 Yirawala was a master technician and the condition of most of his bark paintings is extremely good. His 2008 results reinforce the fact that reselling a bark that was bought in the 1997-1998 period is definitely not advisable at the present time. However, such is the calibre of this artist that if offered at reasonable estimates, it may well be the right time to buy one of his better barks. There has been a recent surge in the value of a number of currently practicing bark painters and it is only a matter of time before the work of Yirawala and other great bark painters of the period are reassessed, sparking a hike in the value of their works.

David Yirawala - Male and Female Kangaroos c. 1965

Male and Female Kangaroos c. 1965
Sold by Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne on 31/07/2006 for $31,200.00
Size: 77 x 44.5 cm

David Yirawala - Mimih Mourning 1958

Mimih Mourning 1958
Sold by Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne on 26/07/2004 for $29,875.00
Size: 52.5 x 26 cm

David Yirawala - Lumahlumah's Daughters 1963

Lumahlumah's Daughters 1963
Sold by Sotheby's, Melbourne on 26/07/2004 for $8,400.00
Size: 43 x 20 cm

Born c1894 in his home country of Marugulidban in Western Arnhem Land, Yirawala’s boyhood was spent traveling over the land and learning his father’s sacred designs, songs and stories. His initiation was a long journey, culminating only when at 45 years of age he was endowed with the final secrets. He became a great ritual leader, with knowledge over all the secular and sacred ceremonial content of Kunwinjku iconography. He lived with his first wife at Oenpelli where he fathered two children. After her death he had three sons and a daughter by his two promised wives. In the late 1950's the family moved to Croker Island (Minjilang), where a number of artists had collected due to the comparative artistic freedom of the Methodist mission in comparison to the one operating at Oenpelli. However the extent of this freedom is arguable, as Yirawala was apparently unaware that the paintings he created over a nine-year period had been sold through the mission until an encounter with collector Sandra Le Brun Holmes in 1964. On telling him the truth, Yirawala apparently confided, 'all my law. Dreaming story big mob I make, nine year. I bin lose him whole lot, Marain business, Lorrgon, Ubar, magic, all finish. My eye little bit no good now' (cited in Holmes 1992: 15).

Though devastated by the news, a partnership began between Holmes and Yirawala that marked a turning point in his career as an artist. While organising the filming of Return to the Dreaming in 1971, she arranged for an exhibition of his work to tour southern cities to which Yirawala later traveled and spoke. Artistically the partnership also marked a new beginning. His early work had been preoccupied with Mimih and sorcery stories depicted characteristically in white outlines, similar to the rock art of the region. By contrast, the works that date from the show that was staged in 1970 and onward feature important aspects of the Ngalod, Mardayin, Lorrkkon, and Ubar ceremonies. The surfaces of his barks became elaborate and in-filled with intricate cross-hatching within x-ray style figurative forms. Many of the cross-hatched designs (rarrk) were derived from the clan markings formerly restricted to painted bodies during ceremony. Yirawala pioneered these new developments in Western Arnhem Land art, thereby shaping the direction Kunwinjku bark painting would follow stylistically thereafter. He did so, not only through his introduction of rarrk designs, but also in his experimentation in varying the monochrome base colour of the bark. The delek (white) underlay of Luma Luma and Wind Mimi 1971 serves to heighten the elegance of the rarrk designs on the figures. The effect was to highlight the physicality of the figure as an anatomical vision, while imbuing the subject with spirituality. In this way the 'conjunction of the metaphysical and physical elements, the revelation of the cosmic within the concrete, gave Kunwinjku art its transformational edge' (Ryan 1990: 77). This is the power to which Picasso referred when he claimed 'this what I have been trying to achieve all my life' (cited in Holmes 1992: 1). However, in Yirawala’s world, it was only natural that art and life, the physical and metaphysical, were inextricably entwined.

 The deed Yirawala drew up with Sandra Le Brun Holmes gave her first option on his work, the majority of which she managed to keep as an intact collection. In 1989 the National Gallery of Australia acquired the Holmes’ collection of 139 bark paintings, marking the first time in the history of the Aboriginal art movement when a ceremonial cycle could be seen visually in its entirety. In this regard she had kept her bargain with the artist and assisted in leaving us with his most lasting and unique legacy. Yirawala was vitally concerned that Balanda (outsiders) should understand the cultural significance of his work and in doing so, build respect for not only his art but also the culture to which it was intimately connected. Unfortunately his efforts and wishes in this regard largely failed to have the desired effect in his own lifetime. While he became a rising star and was made a member of the British Empire for his services to Aboriginal Art in 1971, as well as receiving the International Art Cooperation Award in the same year, his efforts to prevent mining in the Western Arhnem Land region of his birth lay unfulfilled upon his death in 1976.    

Profile References

Holmes, S. le Brun. 1992. Yirawala Painter of the Dreaming. Sydney. Hodder & Stoughton .
McLean, Ian. June 2005. Kuninjku modernism: new perspectives on western Arnhem Land art. Australia. Artlink 25(2).
Ryan, Judith. 1990. Spirit in land : bark paintings from Arnhem Land in the National Gallery of Victoria. Melbourne. National Gallery of Victoria.

David Yirawala - Luma Luma and Wind Mimi 1971

Luma Luma and Wind Mimi 1971
Sold by Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne on 29/06/1998 for $34,500.00
Size: 70 x 30.5 cm

David Yirawala - The Mimi People Defending Their Caves 1958

The Mimi People Defending Their Caves 1958
Sold by Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne on 30/06/1997 for $29,900.00
Size: 53 x 17 cm

David Yirawala - Mimih Mourning 1958

Mimih Mourning 1958
Sold by Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne on 26/07/2004 for $29,875.00
Size: 52.5 x 26 cm

Sites

Croker Island

Subjects

Luma Luma Principal Figure of the Maraian Ceremony, Ngalyod Rainbow Serpent, Estuarine Crocodile (Namanjwarre), Mimi Spirits, Fish, Kangaroo, Plains Kangaroo, Bush Turkey, Barramundi, Frogs, Rock Wallaby , Sacred Mosquito, Cicada Spirit, Sting Ray, Yam

Medium

Natural Earth Pigment on Eucalyptus Bark

Regional Map

Note: This map is a representation and not accurate. Some sites are sacred and therefore not shown.

Market Performance

Career Totals

AIAM100 Rank
43
AIAM100 Rating
3.6834
Sold/Offered
94/154
Clearance Rate
61%
Average Price
$13,616
Total Price
$1,279,891
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
0.8560 0.1394 0.5998 0.9277 0.6119 0.5155 0.4047 1.0017 0.3865 0.7904 0.6208 0.0000 0.0000 0.0000 0.9629 0.5644 0.0000
9/11 2/4 5/9 6/8 5/10 5/6 4/6 9/12 3/11 7/13 4/16 0/2 0/0 0/0 8/9 5/6 0/0
$9,047 $4,860 $14,390 $23,908 $14,975 $10,629 $10,237 $12,388 $16,600 $12,750 $24,090 $0 $0 $0 $14,488 $12,742 $0
Yearly Market Performance Graph from 2000 - 2016

Top 10 Artworks Sold at Auction

1

Kundaagi - Red Plains Kangaroo 1962

sale price: $64,800.00
auction: Sotheby's Australia, Sydney  lot: 80 date: 30/11/2010
101 x 45 cm Natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark
2

10 Mimihs 1959

sale price: $49,850.00
auction: Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Sydney  lot: 82 date: 29/07/2003
73 x 48 cm Natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark
3

Luma Luma and Wind Mimi 1971

sale price: $34,500.00
auction: Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne  lot: 56 date: 29/06/1998
70 x 30.5 cm Natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark
4

Untitled

sale price: $33,600.00
auction: Sotheby's Australia, Melbourne  lot: 28 date: 20/07/2009
51.5 x 26.5 cm Natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark
5

Male and Female Kangaroos c. 1965

sale price: $31,200.00
auction: Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne  lot: 67 date: 31/07/2006
77 x 44.5 cm Natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark
6

The Mimi People Defending Their Caves 1958

sale price: $29,900.00
auction: Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne  lot: 80 date: 30/06/1997
53 x 17 cm Natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark
7

Mimih Mourning 1958

sale price: $29,875.00
auction: Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne  lot: 34 date: 26/07/2004
52.5 x 26 cm Natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark
8

Sacred Bird c. 1965

sale price: $26,450.00
auction: Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne  lot: 144 date: 29/06/1998
?? cm Natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark
9

Nawarran (The Rainbow Serpent) 1962

sale price: $26,350.00
auction: Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne  lot: 83 date: 24/06/2002
41 x 95 cm Natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark
10

Lumaluma, C.1970

sale price: $25,620.00
auction: Bonhams, Sydney  lot: 5 date: 11/05/2014
64 x 33 cm Natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark

Available Artworks

Sorry There are currently no artworks available for this artist.