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Sep. 16th, 2005 @ 09:05 pm William Dobell (1899-1970)

Dobell was born in New Castle, New South Wales, in 1899, at the age of 17 he was apprenticed to an architect. In 1924 he moved to Sydney and worked for a building material manufacturer, while attending evening classes at the Julian Ashtion School of Art where George Lambert influenced his development. In 1929, at the age of 30, Dobell won the Society of Artists Travelling Scholarship and went to London to Slade School. In 1930 a Slade prize was spent in Holland studying Rembrandt and Dauimer. Finically impoverished Dobell found the decade in Europe artistically enriching. The Dutch Masters and the serenity and cool light of the Dutch classical interiors influenced him to fix character on canvas and match style to subject. By 1936, he was equally comfortable using bold impasto or a fine cool wash, a draughtsman’s brush building form or a broad stroke informing character, and developing a high original style. Arriving back in Sydney in 1939 he served first in army camouflage unite and as a labourer in the civil construction corps. This period gives us Dobell’s best works, ‘The Cypriot’ (1940), ‘The Strapper’ (1941), ‘Scotty Allen (1941), and ‘Billy Boy’ (1943. The best of his English works,(1936-1938) are a chilling narrative as in ‘The Dead Landlord’, ‘Miss South KENSINGTION’, ‘The Irish Youth’ and portrait of friend ‘Joshua Smith’, which won the Archibald prize and instant motoriety. This was argued by the press and several failed competitors who issued a writ on the basis of wrong judgement. However, they lost and Dobell kept his prize becoming the best known artist in Australia. Dobel, a shy man appalled by the whole unseemly mess. He lived to win another 2 Archibald prizes and much prestige. He was Australia’s best portrait painter of the last 50 years, but inhibited by the furore, Dobell never seemed to paint so freely again.



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