Accompanied by Dobell's cryptic Biro scribblings on a notepad

    Artist Name:
  • William Dobell
  • Exhibited:
  • 1348
  • Literature:
  • Fine Art
  • Medium:
  • Drawing
  • Circa:
  • Australian
  • Notes:
  • William Dobell was born in Newcastle and held early aspirations to become a professional pianist. He moved to Sydney to work as an architectural designer and in his spare time studied at the Julian Ashton (Art) School. Art triumphed over music and in 1929 he won the New South Wales Society of Artists' Scholarship which enabled him to spend two years at the Slade School, London. He stayed on in Europe and in 1933 had one of his oils exhibited at the Royal Academy. Returning to Australia in 1939 he became an art teacher at the East Sydney Technical College. In 1943 he burst into national prominence when his caricature of 'Joshua Smith' was awarded the prestigious Archibald Prize for portraiture. In spite of the controversy the publicity proved a boon for his career and he went on to become one of Australia's leading artists. So while Penleigh Boyd was capturing the comradery of life under fire in the trenches, Dobell at home in a different time and place summed up the loneliness of War with a few spartan strokes of his pen. ‘Gone to Buy a Victory Bond,’ which is offered in our Sale is certainly not a masterpiece, but it is an intriguing glimpse into the mind of a creative genius. An example of the creative spark of the artist was on show a few years ago when 1,000 landscape artists participated in a painting ‘fest’ on the cliffs of Cornwall to draw attention to Civilisation’s destructive War on the Environment. It drew the world’s press if only to record a ‘Guinness’ moment and, although most who participated would be dismissed as ‘amateur’ artists, amongst the throng there would also be a handful of ‘true’ artists whose works would find a place in the finest galleries. Everyone has life experience of the World in which they live but only a few see it, and it takes the skill of a ‘true’ artist to stop the viewer in their tracks to consider what they are looking at. It could be the random composition and striking colour palate of Jackson Pollocks ‘Blue Poles’ or the distressed form of the horse in Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ that has captured the individual’s creative spurt or a picture-book political treatise on the ugliness of War that you would think that even a sociopath would understand. It is the ‘finished’ work that offers the public the chance to glimpse into the mind of the artist, but it is often the studies or preparatory sketches that show the intellectual struggle that led to a masterpiece. William Dobell was a ‘true’ artist and his ‘caricature’ of ‘Joshua Smith’ is now a prize exhibit at the Art Gallery of New South Wales which also stores in its archives the important working sketches that Dobell drew on to complete his work. That Dobell himself valued his sketches as intimate works of art is evident by his “season’s greetings” to “Mr & Mrs Pitt” signed simply ‘Bill Dobell.’ “I’ve not forgotten my promise of (a) sketch. Will be seeing you again in March” he wrote affectionately to his friends. ‘Gone to Buy a Victory Bond’ beautifully captures the loneliness of War. So, while Australians set off to do their patriotic duty, at home sat an empty table festooned with bottles and wine and beer glasses with a celebratory cake missing just one slice and facing a single chair. Was the artist musing on the solitary ritual of celebrating an anniversary while a beloved husband, son or lover served overseas. And was the sudden act of the celebrator upping to buy a victory bond an empty gesture to speed up their return. The sketch represents a reflection of unsettled times when victory against the Japanese was hoped for but was not necessarily expected after the fall of the British stronghold of Singapore in 1942 - and for that it deserves praise.

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February 20, 2022 12:00 PM AEDT
Paddington, Sydney, Australia

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