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An image of The duchess disrobes by William Dobell

William Dobell

(Australia, England 24 Sep 1899 – 13 May 1970)

The duchess disrobes
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
© Courtesy Sir William Dobell Art Foundation.
20th & 21st c Australian art
Further information

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

Bibliography (16)

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, 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.

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

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, Roseville, 2000, 80.

Barry Pearce, Look, 'The Lowy, Gonski Gallery', pg. 37, Newtown, 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, Newtown, Sep 2011, 31 (colour illus.).

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

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

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

Exhibition history (6)

William Dobell: Paintings from 1926 - 1964 (1964), Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 15 Jul 1964–30 Aug 1964

Great gifts, great patrons, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 17 Aug 1994–19 Oct 1994

William Dobell the painter's progress (1997-1998):

Australian icons: twenty artists from the collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 04 Aug 2000–03 Dec 2000

Portraits in context: the early work of William Dobell (2003), Carrick Hill, Australia, 08 Mar 2003–29 Jun 2003

The naked and the nude, Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, Ballarat, 13 Sep 2008–07 Dec 2008