William Dobell: Australian Artist 1899 – 1970

One of Australia’s most celebrated landscape and portrait artists, Sir William Dobell was born in Newcastle, New South Wales.

He became an articled architect in 1916 and later moved to Sydney to study at the Julian Ashton Art School. From 1929 he made study tours of Holland, France and Belgium and held several exhibitions in London, including one at the Royal Academy in 1933.

Dobell returned to Sydney in 1939 and joined the staff of East Sydney Technical College. In 1943 he won the Archibald Prize with Portrait of an Artist. Dobell was again awarded the Archibald Prize in 1948. He collected his third in 1959. Dobell was knighted in 1966. Under the terms of his will the Sir William Dobell Art Foundation was established in 1970.

A Brief History of William Dobell

Born in New South Wales, Australia, Dobell came to Sydney and attended evening art lessons at Julian Ashton’s. In 1929, a Society of Artists’ Travelling Scholarship took him to the Slade School in London; while there he also had private drawing lessons from Sir William Orpen. He exhibited with the Royal Academy, the New English Art Club and the London Group. In 1936, he began painting a series of portraits of people in the South Kensington area-charladies, restaurant waiters and the like-which he treated with witty insight and technical elan. His return to Australia in 1939 resulted in an expansiveness in his work. The tones became richer and wider, the canvasses larger, the style more expressive and the techniques more various. Examples of his work at this time are The Billy Boy (1943), now in the Australian War Memorial, Portrait of a Strapper (1941), now in the Newcastle Regional Art Gallery, and The Cypriot (1940), now in the Queensland Art Gallery.

In 1943 Dobell was awarded the Archibald Prize for the portrait of a fellow artist, Joshua Smith. The verdict resulted in a cry of outrage, resulting in a heated clash between the conservatives and the moderns that went as far as the Supreme Court of NSW, where two members of the Royal Art Society attempted, unsuccessfully, to have the award set aside. A modest and diffident person, Dobell was upset by the stress of the trial, and the subsequent awards of the Wynne Prize and the Archibald Prize in 1948 and 1959 respectively and the commission in 1960 by Time magazine to paint a portrait of the Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, did little to restore his equanimity.

As the embattled hero of the modern movement, a role he disliked, and as a portraitist who broke the crust of predictability that had surmounted this art form for several decades, Dobell attracted support of almost religious fervor.

It embarrassed and inhibited him, and he sought seclusion at Wangi Wangi in NSW where he remained for the rest of his life, working on landscapes of the area and some portraits. His New Guinea series, the result of visits to that country in 1949 and 1950, allowed his fascination for color to find an outlet in exotic miniature works. The Art Gallery of New South Wales honored him with a retrospective exhibition in 1964.

Dobell Prize

Dobell Prize for drawing, Australian art prize held by the Art Gallery of New South Wales the highest prize for drawing in Australia. The prize had previously been held in conjunction with the Archibald Prize, Sulman Prize, Wynne Prize, around the early part of the year, but was moved in 2003 to being held around August or September.

The prize was initiated by the Trustees of the Sir William Dobell Art Foundation. In 2003, the prize money was $20,000. The Dobell Prize is an acquisitive award, with the gallery keeping past winners in the permanent collection. There were 685 entrants in the first year of the prize, in 1993, of which only 34 were exhibited, and there were similar numbers in following years.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dobell_Prize

William Dobell: Portraits in Context

Reliving the controversy that reigned in 1944 after William Dobell’s portrait of artist Joshua Smith was awarded the Archibald Prize, Australia’s premier prize for portraiture, this book describes the curious history of this famous painting. The passionate debate that the painting inspires even today and the long unanswered question of whether this was a portrait or an unkind caricature are covered in detail. Also included is the story of the fire that nearly destroyed it and its remarkable restoration. Other early works by this great, enigmatic Australian artist are showcased as well.

Related Links

Dobell House: http://www.dobellhouse.org.au

About William Dobell:

Art Gallery of NSW: http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au