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Blog post from Friday, 25 September, 2015

Sir William Dobell, prize-winning Australian painter, was born on this day, 24 September 1899.

Studying at the Slade School of Fine Art in London and at The Hague, Dobell quickly built a reputation for his life painting and figure drawing, winning prizes early in his career as an artist. In 1939, Dobell returned to Sydney, teaching for a short period and painting for the Civil Construction Corps after the outbreak of World War II.

In 1943, Dobell won the Archibald Prize competition for his portrait of Joshua Smith, sparking a controversy. Two artists took him to court on the claim that his prize-winning work was a caricature not a portrait, and thus did not deserve to win. While the case went in his favour, the press did not – they attacked Dobell as the personification of ‘bizarre’ modern art (Oxford Art Online).

After a short period where he experimented with other genres, Dobell proved himself by winning two more Archibald Prizes, in 1948 for Margaret Olley and 1959 for Dr E.G. MacMahon, and the Wynne Prize for ‘Storm approaching Wangi’.

In 1965, he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, and in 1966, four years before he died, he was knighted. Dobell’s legacy from his estate allowed the establishment of Dobell Foundation, promoting and benefiting art in New South Wales.

His flexible style, ranging from Impressionism to Expressionism, has resulted in him becoming a figurehead of the Sydney Modernist movement.

Many of Dobell’s artworks are held at the Art Gallery of NSW and at the National Gallery of Australia.

In our collection, we hold books about Dobell and pictures of him and his artworks.

The photograph of Sir William Dobell above was taken by Consolidated Press circa 1950.