Discovered print of lost painting of Aboriginal PoW sparks search for soldier's identity

Discovered print of lost painting of Aboriginal PoW sparks search for soldier's identity

Discovered print of lost painting of Aboriginal PoW sparks search for soldier's identity

Updated 31 May 2017, 9:30 AEST

A search is on for a 100-year-old long-lost painting of an Aboriginal prisoner of war while a print of the work goes on display for the first time in Australia.

A search is on for a 100-year-old long-lost painting of an Aboriginal prisoner of war.

The mystery soldier with sad eyes and hollow cheeks was painted by German artist Thomas Baumgartner in 1917 at a PoW camp at Wunsdorf, south of Berlin.

Andrew McIntosh, a member of the Victorian Aboriginal Remembrance Committee, found the print of the painting on eBay's German site. It will be on display for the first time in Australia today.

"When people see it, you can look into the eyes of that man and see that he's been through trauma," Mr McIntosh said.

"It's really — as far as we're aware — the first painting of an Aboriginal soldier in uniform."

The print, taken from a book published in the 1920s, will be on show at the Victorian Aboriginal Remembrance Service in Melbourne.

But Mr McIntosh said the painting may still be intact if it was not destroyed during World War II, and he hoped to "crowdsource" a global search for it.

"Let's find this painting," he said.

He said there were theories about the soldier's identity, but no real confirmation of his name or where he enlisted.

Artists sent to PoW camps to document prisoners

It is estimated at least 1,000 Indigenous soldiers fought for the Australian Imperial Force in World War I, and Mr McIntosh said there was evidence that 15 were taken prisoner in Germany.

More than a dozen artists were sent to the Halbmondlager camp at Wunsdorf to document the prisoners of war held there, who came from all over the world.

"The Germans were not only painting these prisoners of war, they were also recording their voices, the dialects of the world," Mr McIntosh said.

"They were taking all these different measurements, trying to classify the peoples of the world and document people who had been captured and held."

While some paintings came with an inscription of a soldier's nationality, name and rank, Mr McIntosh said the painting of the Aboriginal soldier did not.

He said he hoped a family member in Australia may recognise the likeness in order to identify the man.