William DobellTo People
William Dobell (1899-1970) is one of Australia's foremost genre painters. Born in the Newcastle suburb Cooks Hill, he moved to Sydney in 1924 to work as a draftsman for an architectural metalwork and terracotta manufacturer. In 1925 he enrolled in evening classes at Julian Ashton's School where he was influenced by George Lambert. In 1929 Dobell was awarded the Society of Artists' Travelling Scholarship and travelled to England to study at the Slade School under Wilson Steer, Henry Tonks and William Orpen. In 1943 Dobell won the Archibald prize with his portrait of Joshua Smith and in 1948 with his portrait of Margaret Olley. He also won the Wynne prize in 1948 for "Storm approaching Wangi".
Between 1960 and 1963 Time magazine commissioned Dobell to paint four portraits for their covers, one per year of: Rt. Hon. R. G. Menzies; South Vietnam's President Ngo Dinh Diem (he spent time in Hong Kong to finish the work); Frederick G. Donner, the Chairman of General Motors; and Malaysian PM Tunka Abdul Rakman.
In 1964 Dobell exhibited in a major retrospective at AGNSW and the first monograph of his work was written by James Gleeson who described Dobell's style as unique in being able to adapt to suit the character of his subject. "One of the astonishing things about Dobell's portraiture is his ability to adjust his style to the nature of the personality he is portraying .... If the character of his sitter is broad and generous, he paints broadly and generously. If the character is contained and inward looking, he uses brushstrokes that convey this fact. In his later portraits one has only to look at a few square inches of a painted sleeve to know what sort of person is wearing it."
Dobell was awarded an Order of the British Empire in 1965 and a Knighthood in 1966. The year after his death, on January 19 1971, the Sir William Dobell Art Foundation was formed and was made the sole beneficiary of the artists estate.