Off to Buy a Victory Bond!

Only the other day 1,000 landscape artists participated in a painting ‘fest’ on the cliffs of Cornwall to draw attention to the steady erosion of the natural environment that was the inspiration for their works. 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 experiences the world 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 Pollock's ‘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 even a sociopath would understand.

It is the ‘finished’ work that offers the public a 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 best known for his controversial ‘caricature’ of ‘Joshua Smith’ that took out the Archibald ‘Portrait’ Prize in 1943 after withstanding a legal challenge by fellow artists offended by his 'modernist' take. The painting 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 evidenced 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.

His sketch in our sale titled ‘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 lonely-heart upping to buy a victory bond an empty gesture to speed up their return. Dobell himself changed his mind about the composition mid-stream penning in the cake over an unopened 'box of chocolates' to give the scene added poignancy.

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. Sometimes the artist can sum it all up with a few unfettered lines on a page as occurred with ‘Off to Buy a Victory Bond,’ which features in Sale 50.

It is certainly not a masterpiece, but it is an intriguing glimpse into the mind of a creative genius.