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The duchess disrobes



William Dobell

Australia, England

24 Sep 1899 - 13 May 1970


Dobell's London years form the most significant period in his development as an artist, when he produced an outstanding group of works that witnessed the germination of his acute interest in human nature. Living in central London's Pimlico, surrounded by a rich milieu of characters, he was inspired to produce quickly-captured glimpses of life in the streets, cafes and parks.

"We'd go around everywhere; to the zoo on the free day ... and we'd sketch there, and then to the cheap coffee houses and we'd sketch the people sitting around ... I then got the idea of transposing those quick sketches into paintings".
William Dobell, 1963

His London period reached its peak in his inspirationally conceived, tiny comic masterpiece 'The duchess disrobes', the idea for which had its origins in his sketches of birds drying their wings at the London Zoo. It is one of a small number of extraordinary paintings in the tradition of English social caricaturists William Hogarth and Thomas Rowlandson.

Australian Art Department, AGNSW, 2001

From the Gallery Shop




Media category


Materials used

oil on plywood


35.5 x 27.0 cm board; 54.0 x 45.4 x 6.2 cm frame

Signature & date

Signed l.r. corner, yellow oil "W.Dobell". Not dated.


Purchased with assistance from the Trustees of the Sir William Dobell Art Foundation 1987

Accession number


Artist information

William Dobell

Works in the collection


Shown in 6 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 16 publications


Brian Adams, Portrait of an artist: A biography of William Dobell, Melbourne, 1983, 244.

Scott Bevan, Bill: the life of William Dobell, 'Learning from the masters', pg. 32-83, Cammeray, 2014, 60.

Helen Campbell, Australian art: in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Out of Sydney: city and hinterlands', pg. 185-186, Sydney, 2000, 186, 190, 191 (colour illus.), 300.

Elizabeth Cross, The Naked and the Nude, 'The Naked and the Nude', pg. 16-29, Ballarat, 2008, 25, 26, 110 (colour illus.), 131. no catalogue numbers

William Dobell', William Dobell: portraits in context, 'Portraits in context: selected early works, pg. 21-25, Kent Town, 2003, 13, 45 (colour illus.).

Harbant Gill, Sun-Herald, 'Naked and the dread', pg. 32, Sydney, 22 Sep 2008, 32.

James Gleeson, William Dobell, London, 1964, 24 (colour illus.).

James Gleeson, The drawings of William Dobell in the Australian National Gallery, 'Ladies of fashion', pg.32, Canberra, 1992, 32 (colour illus.), 63. figure no. 38, erroneously states that work is in a Private Collection.

Ewen McDonald, The Art Gallery of New South Wales collections, 'Image of contention', pg. 10-20, Sydney, 1994, 48 (colour illus.).

Barry Pearce, Australian painters of the twentieth century, 'William Dobell', pg. 76-87, Sydney, 2000, 80.

Barry Pearce, Look, 'The Lowy, Gonski Gallery', pg. 37, Sydney, Dec 2005-Jan 2006, 37.

Peter Raissis, William Dobell - the painter's progress, 'London: life and portraits', pg. 32-72, Sydney, 1997, 24, 34, 50, 51 (colour illus.), 144. 12a

Jill Sykes, Look, 'Breaking the territorial mould: some thoughts from a new head curator', pg. 30-31, Sydney, Sep 2011, 31 (colour illus.).

Editor Unknown (Editor), Look, Heidelberg, Mar 1988, 22.

Author Unknown, The Art of William Dobell, Sydney, 1946, 61 (illus.).

Author Unknown, William Dobell: the painters progress, Sydney, 1997, illus..