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Jack Britten

AKA Warnngayirriny, Yalarrji

46 Career Overall Rank

87 2016 Market Rank

  • Born: 1921 - 2002

  • Region:

While Jack Britten’s work was included in a number of important institutional exhibitions prior to 1990 and several commercial group shows from 1989 onward his career was marked by a lack of good representation and individual promotion. He lived and painted principally at Frog Hollow and only visited Warmun to paint during the short tenure of Maxine Taylor as the first unfunded art coordinator in Turkey Creek. After she left the community Jack continued to paint for her exclusively, other than for a very breif period just prior to his death in 2002. Earlier works were painted for Waringarri Arts and Ochre Gallery in Kununurra and, until its closure, Goolarabooloo Arts in Broome. However Jack did not like to travel far beyond the confines of his small community and relied, for most of his career, on others visiting him there. An important body of work was produced in this way for Vivien Anderson in the early 1990s.

Although he was active from the early 1980s, when Rover Thomas had only just began painting, Jack Britten is appreciated, by and large, on his own terms, and for a distinct and altogether different sensibility. His early works were not, for instance, derived from the Krill Krill boards associated with the origins of the East Kimberley style as were the work of Thomas, Jaminji and others.

His early Purnulu- Bungle Bungles1984 fetched an astounding $35,125 when offered at Deutscher~Menzies with a presale estimate of just $15,000-18,000 in 2000. Still his sixth highest result, it was not exceeded as his record price until Sotheby achieved $49,850 for a work with the same theme and estimate four years later.

Such a high price at the time, doubling the previous record of $17,250 paid for Untitled (Ord River) 1990, two years earlier is even more noteworthy in light of its year of auction, 2000. The day before Sotheby’s had just eclipsed the record paid for Texas Downs Country 1984 by Rover Thomas which stood at $108,100 when they sold Kulmadja (Elgee Cliff)1987 for $141,00, (now Rover's 34th best result). The following year Rover's record was set at  $778,750 (and †his remains his best sale to this day), while Jack Britten highest result is the $82,750 achieved by Sotheby’s for a 1989 depiction of Purnululu which carried an estimate of just $60,000-80,000 in 2005.

The preference amongst collectors of works by major East Kimberley artists, other than Paddy Bedford and those who began painting much later, is clearly for works created prior to the early 1990s. In Britten’s case all of his best ten results were for paintings created before 1994 until a major 1998 triptych with each panel measuring 160 x 60 cm achieved his second highest result when sold at Mossgreen in April 2008 for $51,735 against a presale estimate of $50,000-70,000 (Lot 118).  This later work was characterized by a stricter geometry and starker colouration. Britten's next highest result for work produced after 1993 was Purnululu 2001, a work measuring 110 x 114 cm. which sold at Lawson~Menzies for  $21,600 in 2005 (Lot 197). However these later works also form a large majority of his lesser sales and a considerable amount of his unsold works. In all 111 works have sold out of the 190 offered resulting in a clearance rate of 58 percent. The number of works at auction steadily increased during the late 1990s and peaked in 2004 when 26 were offered for sale of which 21 sold for a total value of $216,410. Despite fewer works being up for sale, 2005 was the peak year for Britten’s work with 15 fifteen paintings selling for more than $276,000. Only 26 works have sold for more than $10,000 with just three selling above $50,000 indicating a distinct reserve on the part of buyers for all but the very best of his works. Jack Britten produced many very fine paintings in the last five years of his life but Tier I auction bouses have shown an indifference to the provenance of his late career painting even though it was Jack himself who refused to paint for the Warmun art centre once Maxine Taylor no longer acted as art coordinator there. His works created for her company, Narangunny Art Traders, were produced with great integrity employing the finest materials and would seem to be greatly undervalued in the current market.

 While his images of the Bungle Bungle ranges are by far his most familiar, Jack Britten produced many other images throughout a painting career which spanned several decades. Many of these, may currently be considered lesser works, however they are extremely accomplished, quirky and visually challenging. A perfect example is the delightful Eagles 1993 which sold for a mere $8,400 at Sotheby’s in July in 2005 (Lot 192) despite its considerable size and beauty. The two eagles seem to court each other, endearingly. This work, like all of Jack Britten’s best, can be appreciated for its charm, doubtless born by the love and longing this great old man felt for the country of his birth. He was an artist of the highest importance and his paintings are relatively inexpensive alongside those of many of his contemporaries. They represent fantastic value for collectors who can still pick up great paintings at very reasonable prices indeed.   

Jack Britten - Purnululu (The Bungle Bungles) 1993

Purnululu (The Bungle Bungles) 1993
Sold by Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne on 24/07/2007 for $26,400.00
Size: 120 x 160 cm

Jack Britten - Frog Hollow c. 1991

Frog Hollow c. 1991
Sold by Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne on 26/07/2004 for $29,875.00
Size: 81 x 128 cm

Jack Britten - Gnairariny - Carr-Boyd Ranges

Gnairariny - Carr-Boyd Ranges
Sold by cooee, N/A on 0000-00-00 for $0.00
Size: 120 x 90 cm

Jack Britten was born and spent his childhood at Tickelara Station, in the north west  of Australia, at a time when many Gija people were massacred during the gold rush at Hall’s Creek and Chinaman’s Garden in the East Kimberley region.

'Sometimes they bin all day shootin people there,' Jack recalled in his later years, 'my father and mother and grandparents were with good gadiya (white man). I might have got shot if he didn’t look after me' (cited in Ryan 1993: 41).

Their ‘good gadiya’ was Ted Britten, a European stockman who took Jack, whilst still a boy, to Fitzroy Crossing to work on stations such as Cherrabun, Christmas Creek and Cogo. He did not rejoin his mother at Ticklerra until in his late teens, and he worked there as a stockman well in to his late 40’s. The introduction of the pastoral award in 1969, which aimed to provide Indigenous workers with similar wages to their non-Indigenous counterparts had the unfortunate and unintended effect of ending their jobs entirely. Jack who, along with other Aboriginal stockmen, found himself unemployed, moved to Nine Mile creek at Wyndham and  became a road-worker with the Shire. One of his nicknames Yalarrji, was given to him after spending a number of years panning for gold and dingo trapping at Yalarre on Alice Downs after Ted Britten’s death. He used to relate the tale of finding a reef of gold, enough to make a prospector a rich man and having been paid for the 44 gallon drum of ore he mined from it, in rations and blankets.

It was not until the establishment of the Warmun Community at Turkey Creek, some 500 kilometres south of Wyndham, that Jack returned to his traditional lands which stretched from his new residence at Frog Hollow east to the Bungle Bungles; south, to take in the former Hann Springs and Tickelara Cattle Stations; north to the upper reaches of the Ord river; and west to the rugged hilly domain of the Mabel Downs high country. It is this country and its sacred and significant  sites that he came to depict in his paintings.

Jack Britten actually began painting earlier than almost all of his contemporaries, including Rover Thomas and Paddy Jaminji, his grandparents having taught him to paint using traditional materials, methods and themes. In many of his canvasses, most particularly the earliest ones, Britten used bush gum, sap from the Bloodwood tree and kangaroo blood to bind the ochres. Besides these traditional binding agents, Britten showed other signs of the tutelage he received  from his grandparents. The manner in which he marked the the dark surface of his canvaes with zig zag, linear, and dotted scrifito and paint is reminiscent of how the Gidja traditionally decorated their artifacts, slates and boab nuts in the region, as well as the designs they created for body painting. Most especially in early paintings, these effects animate Brittens’ unique composite perspective of country.

Despite a vast repertoir, Jack Britten is most renowned for his depictions of the Purnululu, the Bungle Bungle region of which he became the most senior living custodian. Throughout his career he constantly drew inspiration from this land, painting the Bungle Bungles as dark clusters of dome shaped mountains, layered with glistening white trails of dots. Never the less, exentricities and undulations in composition and stylistic manner were still to be found throughout his artistic output. His early works were daring in their execution, featuring highly unusual compositions of alternating perspectives. In work such as Untitled (Ord River Country)1990 one shifts from a topographical omnipotent perspective of the Ord River, which twists through the work diagonally, to silhouette’s of the Bungle Bungles in lateral perspective, scattered around the river implying their individual orientation in the landscape. In constrast to the somber, moody atmosphere of these early works Britten’s late career paintings tend to be more open and stark as exampled by Pumululu 2001.

It is Britten’s moody atmospheric canvases that will be his most enduring. Works with a similar sensibility can also be found in the early paintings of George Mung Mung and Freddie Timms. However, while George and Freddie produced very few works with such  temperament, Jack Britten dedicated the majority of his career to investigating the subtle variations of mood and composition within the domain of his own somber outlook on a life lived during turbulent times. As a prolific artist, such investigation left a sumptuous legacy of work of intriguing emotion.

Profile References

Ryan, Judith. 1993. Images of Power, Aboriginal Art of the Kimberley. Melbourne. National Gallery of Victoria.
Kleinert, Sylvia & Neale, Margo . 2000. The Oxford Companion to Aboriginal Art and Culture. Melbourne. Oxford University Press.

Jack Britten - Jarlinji, Plains Kangaroo 1990

Jarlinji, Plains Kangaroo 1990
Sold by Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne on 26/07/2004 for $25,175.00
Size: 80 x 160 cm

Jack Britten - Purnu Lulu, the Bungle Bungles 1989

Purnu Lulu, the Bungle Bungles 1989
Sold by Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne on 25/07/2005 for $82,750.00
Size: 160 x 200 cm

Jack Britten - Purnululu (Bungles Bungles), 1992

Purnululu (Bungles Bungles), 1992
Sold by Lawson~Menzies, Sydney on 09/11/2005 for $50,400.00
Size: 120 x 160 cm

Sites

Bungle Bungles (Purnululu), Ord River, Frog Hollow (Ngarrgooroon), Bedford Downs (Jirrawal Country), Bull Creek, Mount Clarke

Subjects

Crocodile, Devil Devil, Two Piccaninnys

Medium

Ochres on Linen and Canvas

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
46
AIAM100 Rating
3.5276
Sold/Offered
115/199
Clearance Rate
58%
Average Price
$9,237
Total Price
$1,062,285
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
0.7107 0.2327 0.1923 0.4834 2.1318 2.0355 0.7151 0.7997 0.4729 0.0323 0.0300 0.7777 0.0762 0.1921 0.3108 0.4818 0.1920
7/14 3/5 3/7 6/10 21/26 15/21 8/13 9/17 3/7 1/8 1/7 7/13 2/2 3/5 5/7 7/12 4/9
$10,308 $6,017 $4,110 $6,491 $10,305 $18,415 $7,990 $7,896 $24,845 $1,046 $900 $12,343 $1,453 $4,100 $3,864 $4,737 $2,304
Yearly Market Performance Graph from 2000 - 2016

Top 10 Artworks Sold at Auction

1

Purnu Lulu, the Bungle Bungles 1989

sale price: $82,750.00
auction: Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne  lot: 44 date: 25/07/2005
160 x 200 cm Natural earth pigments and natural binders on canvas
2

Triptych (A) Tjatjao (b) Nyingirowing (c) Jalmjnji (all Country) 1998

sale price: $51,735.00
auction: Mossgreen Auctions, Melbourne  lot: 118 date: 08/04/2008
Each panel 160 x 60 Natural earth pigment on canvas
3

Purnululu (Bungles Bungles), 1992

sale price: $50,400.00
auction: Lawson~Menzies, Sydney  lot: 145 date: 09/11/2005
120 x 160 cm Natural earth pigments on canvas
4

The Bungle Bungles 1990

sale price: $49,850.00
auction: Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne  lot: 31 date: 26/07/2004
100 x 118.5 cm Natural earth pigments and natural binder (bush gum) on canvas
5

The Bungle Bungles (Purnululu)

sale price: $37,200.00
auction: Bonhams, Sydney  lot: 12 date: 28/06/2011
100 x 118.5 cm Natural earth pigments and natural binder (bush gum) on canvas
6

Purnululu - Bungle Bungles 1984

sale price: $35,125.00
auction: Deutscher~Menzies, Melbourne  lot: 77 date: 27/06/2000
91.5 x 182.5 cm Earth pigments on board
7

Frog Hollow c. 1991

sale price: $29,875.00
auction: Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne  lot: 131 date: 26/07/2004
81 x 128 cm Natural earth pigments and natural binder (bush gum) on canvas
8

Eagle and Bungle Bungles 1992

sale price: $28,700.00
auction: Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne  lot: 30 date: 26/07/2004
78.5 x 118 cm Natural earth pigments and natural binder (bush gum) on canvas
9

Purnululu (The Bungle Bungles) 1993

sale price: $26,400.00
auction: Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne  lot: 35 date: 24/07/2007
120 x 160 cm Natural earth pigments and natural binders on canvas
10

Purnululu Country 1989

sale price: $26,350.00
auction: Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne  lot: 193 date: 25/07/2005
74 x 127.5 cm Natural earth pigments and natural binders on canvas

Available Artworks

Sorry There are currently no artworks available for this artist.