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Copyright restored to Albert Namatjira family in Australia

Albert Namatjira was a world-renowned watercolor painter in the first half of the 20th century. But after his death, his relatives eventually lost their share of his copyright, plunging the family into poverty.

Albert Namatjira painting the Australian countryside while sitting on a log.

The copyright of Australia's most well-known Aboriginal artist has been restored to his family after a years' long struggle.

Albert Namatjira's dynamic watercolor paintings have won plaudits around the world for the hues he brought to his depictions of Australia's Western Desert.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth received one of Namatjira's paintings as a present for her 21st birthday in 1947, and he met the young queen during a coronation stop in Canberra in 1954.

But three years after he sold partial copyright for his works to a friend John Brackenreg, and two years later, in 1959, Namatjira died at the age of 57.

A woman holding a painting by Albert Namatjira (Getty Images/AFP/W. West)

Namatjira's work is known around the world

His will called for his copyright share to be transferred to his widow, Robina, and their children. It gave the family royalty income when reproductions of his paintings were used.

But his estate's executor handed over the administration of his will to the public trustee of the state of the Northern Territory, which sold the copyright to Brackenreg's company, Legend Press, in 1983 without consulting the family, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

The royalty payments to Namatjira's descendants ended and when Brackenreg died he passed the copyright to his children.

In 2009, the arts organization Big hART, began campaigning to have the copyright returned to the Namatjira family.

Lenie Namatjira, a granddaughter of the artist, presented England's Queen Elizabeth with two paintings in 2013.

Lenie Namatjira, a granddaughter of the artist, presented England's Queen Elizabeth with two paintings in 2013

Copyright returned

Their effort was backed by Australian businessman Dick Smith, who called it the most satisfying philanthropic thing he had ever done.

"It's a just cause," Smith told Reuters news agency in a telephone interview on Saturday.

On Friday Smith persuaded Brackenreg's children to give the copyright to the Namatjira Legacy Trust, which represents the family, for A$1.

Smith also donated A$250,000 ($197,200, €167,320) to the trust.

Sophia Marinos, the chair of the Namatjira Legacy Trust, said the money would benefit the broader Aboriginal community with funding support for language and cultural programs.

Marinos also produced a film drama about the story and discussed it recently with Australia's ABC news.

She said they wanted to strike a balance between making the film too sad and depressing while maintaining fidelity to the truth.

"It's also really important that we're telling the positive side of the story and celebrating what is an iconic Australian life and family," she said. "It's five generations of artists, it's the longest surviving art movement that this country has. That is an important thing for the country to know. Just as important as the travesty of justice.

"Balancing those two things is really important," she continued. "We want audiences to come away celebrating and feeling hopeful about the future because it's that hope and optimism that can be activated to address the injustices and negative aspects of what's happened."

bik/sms (Reuters, ABC)

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