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Who was William Dobell?

Updated on December 3, 2016

Sir William Dobell (1899-1970) was one of a few Australian painters who, during the early 1940s, established a style of painting which was not only characteristically Australian, but which was of a caliber to gain international recognition.

Although Dobell is probably best known for his distinctive portraits, he was by no means restricted to these subjects and in 1948 he won the Archibald Prize with a portrait of Margaret Olley, and the Wynne Award for a landscape.

As a sincere painter and a shy individual, his work might very easily have been retarded.

In 1944 his portrait of a colleague, Joshua Smith, was awarded the Archibald Prize. This award antagonized certain conservative painters to such a degree that they instituted legal action to prevent Dobell receiving the prize.

They alleged that the painting was not a portrait, but a caricature. The court hearing, which was protracted for nearly two years, resulted in a decision in Dobell's favor. But the publicity it aroused was very much disliked by Dobell, who felt that everything else he painted failed to gain an objective viewing.

He was born in Newcastle and learned painting in Sydney, London and Holland.

From 1931-39 he painted in Europe and his work was hung at the Royal Academy in London. He returned to Australia in 1939 where he at first was a painter for a camouflage unit, but eventually was appointed an official war artist.

His best known portraits 'The Billy Boy', 'The Strapper' and 'The Cypriot', all resulted from his wartime experiences.

In 1950-51 he visited and worked in New Guinea. On his return he received many commissions. He received a knighthood in 1966 and during his later years retired to Wangi, near Lake Macquarie, where he produced many more paintings.


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    • cloverleaffarm profile image

      Healing Herbalist 6 years ago from The Hamlet of Effingham

      Very interesting. I had never heard of him.

      Voted up!