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William Dobell

Australia 1899-1970
Dobell is one of the greatest portrait painters this country has produced. Born in Newcastle, he studied at Julian Ashton’s art school in Sydney and at the Slade School of Fine Arts in London, during a decade in England. Back in Australia, he won his first Archibald Prize in 1943 for a portrait of Joshua Smith, but the surrounding controversy led him to turn to landscape painting for a while. Margaret Olley marked his return to portraiture and won him his second Archibald, in 1948. He was awarded the Wynne Prize the same year. A trustee of the Gallery from 1944 to 1948, Dobell was knighted in 1966.

Margaret Olley 1948

Echoing the spirit of European masters Thomas Gainsborough and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, this portrait depicts Dobell’s friend and fellow artist Margaret Olley.

Dobell based his painting on an outfit Olley wore to an opening. ‘Loudon Sainthill had an exhibition opening, and on the invitation he had written: “Darling Oll, come dressed as a duchess”. I didn’t have anything to wear, so a friend gave me his grandmother’s wedding dress sleeves and helped me make an extravagant dress from ex-war supply parachute silk. After the opening we all went to a party at Tas [Russell] and Bonnie Drysdale’s place at Rose Bay,’ said Olley.

William Dobell Margaret Olley 1948