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Dame Mary Gilmore



William Dobell

Australia, England

24 Sep 1899 - 13 May 1970


"I want to say how proud I am that you want to make a sketch of me. You are the only painter we have, perhaps the only one we ever had, whose work has its ghosts behind it ..."
- Dame Mary Gilmore 1943

"The painting is far more important than the sitter. This painting will still be carrying my identity when my own work is forgotten."
- Dame Mary Gilmore 1957

Dame Mary Gilmore (1865-1962) was a distinguished humanitarian, poet, left-wing political activist and social reformer, who became part of a network of writers and artists, including Dobell, who lived in Kings Cross, Sydney following the war. This portrait, typically developed through many sketches and studies, is perhaps the most profound of his many commissioned portraits during the last years of his life.

Australian Art Department, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2000

This work was a finalist in the 1957 Archibald Prize and was acquired by the Gallery in 1960.




Media category


Materials used

oil on hardboard


90.2 x 73.7 cm board; 105.1 x 88.6 x 6.5 cm frame

Signature & date

Signed l.r. corner, orange oil "DOBELL". Not dated.


Gift of Dame Mary Gilmore 1960


Not on display

Accession number


Archibald Prize

- 1957

Artist information

William Dobell

Artist profile

Works in the collection


Shown in 12 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 38 publications


Tony Bonyhady, The Australian's Review of Books, 'With heads held high', pg. 14-16, Sydney, Jun 1999, 15 (colour illus.).

Modern Australian painting, 1950/1975, Adelaide, 1980, frontispiece (colour illus.).

Portrait of a Gallery, 'Australian 20th Century Art', pg. 71-89, Sydney, 1984, 77 (colour illus.), 76.

Joshua Smith: artist 1905-1995, 'Art works and anecdotes', pg. 71-88, New South Wales, 1998, 83.

Rebecca Corbell, The Possibilities of Portraiture, "Introduction", pg. 5-6, Canberra, 1999, 7 (colour illus.).

Our Art Critic., The Sydney Morning Herald, 'The Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Art Prizes', Sydney, 12 Dec 1957, page unknown. Archibald Prize review.

the "Mirror" art critic'., Daily Mirror, 'Painters and paintings, Sydney, 12 Dec 1957, page unknown. Archibald Prize review.

Prue Davidson, William Dobell - the painter's progress, 'The later years', pg. 110-133, Sydney, 1997, 74, 110, 114, 115 (colour illus.), 144. 39a

William Dobell: his life, art and home, 'Life at Wangi', pg. 75-97, New South Wales, 2011, 77, 78 (illus., detail), 79, 94 (colour illus.), 134. NOTE: Photograph on page 78 has Dame Mary Gilmore standing infront of Dobell's portrait.

William Dobell: an artist's life, 'Life at Wangi', pg. 127-172, New South Wales, 2010, 66, 69, 132, 133 (colour illus.), 134 (illus.), 135, 195 (colour illus.). NOTE: Photograph on page 34 has Dame Mary Gilmore standing infront of Dobell's portrait.

Geoffrey Dutton., Bulletin, 'Artbursts: Archibald and Wynne', Sydney, 18 Dec 1957, page unknown. Archibald Prize review.

Mary Eagle, A tribute to William Dobell, 'The strength of life', pg. 10-41, Canberra, 1999, 14, 17.

Uncommon Australians: towards an Australian portrait gallery, Sydney, 1992, 95 (colour illus.).

James Gleeson, The drawings of William Dobell in the Australian National Gallery, 'The draughtsman as artist', pg. 6-17, Canberra, 1992, 10, 13.

James Gleeson., Sun, 'Art's "anemia": Prize "not to best portrait"', Sydney, 12 Dec 1957, page unknown. Archibald Prize review.

Anne Gray, Face: Australian portraits 1880-1960, 'Face: Australian portraits 1880-1960', pg. 15-41, Canberra, 2010, 20, 21 (colour illus.).

Famous people: a selective who's who from works in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1981, 6 (illus.).

Geoff Hocking, Currency lads & lasses: behind the faces on Australian banknotes, 'Dame Mary Gilmore', pg. 188-193, South Melbourne, 2004, 192 (colour illus.).

Shireen Huda, Pedigree and panache: a history of the art auction in Australia, 'Chapter 4. Australian Art at auction: the 1960s market', pg. 55-77, Canberra, 2008, 62.

John Kelly, Art Monthly Australia, 'William Dobell: An artist's life', pg. 44-45, Canberra, Nov 2010, 45 (colour illus.). Review of Elizabeth Donaldson book on Dobell.

Joan Kerr, Art Monthly Australia, 'The possibilities of a National Portrait gallery', pg. 2-8, Canberra, Apr 1999, 7 (illus.), 8.

A singular voice: essays on Australian art and architecture, 'The possibilities of a National Portrait Gallery, 1999', pg. 75-81, Sydney, 2009, 77 (illus.).

AGNSW Collections, 'From Colonialism to late Modernism', pg. 7-106, Sydney, 1994, 48, 49 (colour illus.).

William Dobell, Brisbane, 1959. 64; Late Inclusions: The portrait was commissioned by the Australian Book Society on the occasion of Dame Mary's 90th birthday, 16/8/55. It is kindly lent by the Society

Art Gallery of New South Wales Quarterly, 'Acquisitions for 1960', pg. 58-67, Sydney, Apr 1961, 58, 60 (illus.), 61.

Art and medicine: reminiscences & reflections of a retiring surgeon, 'Postlude', pg. 79-87, Melbourne, 1999, 87.

Twentieth century Australian masterworks from the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Fred Williams Pilbara Series, Tokyo, 1985, 31 (colour illus.). 14

Barry Pearce, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian', pg. 13-35, Sydney, 1988, 26, 27 (illus.).

52 views of Rudy Komon, Sydney, 1999, 46 (illus.). NOTE: There is a black and white photograph of Rudy Komon and Dame Mary Gilmore infront of this painting.

Let's face it: the history of the Archibald Prize, 'The Postwar Years', pg. 40-62, Sydney, 1999, 51 (colour illus.).

100 masterpieces of Australian painting, Adelaide, 1973, 178, 179 (colour illus.). plate no. 86

Modern Australian painting and sculpture: a survey of Australian art from 1950-1960, Adelaide, 1960, 35 (colour illus.).

Judith White, art lovers: the story of the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales 1953-2013, 'Chapter 2: After the Ball1960-1972', pp. 41-64, Sydney, 2013, 6 (illus.), 42.

Judith White, Australian art collector, 'Yours sincerely: William Dobell', pg. 56-59, Sydney, Apr 2000-Jun 2000, 58 (colour illus.), 59.

Unknown (Editor), Sun, 'Hele wins again: this year's Archibald', Sydney, 11 Dec 1957, page unknown. Archibald Prize review.

Unknown, Touchdown School Magazine, Sydney, Jul 1994, (illus.).

William Dobell: the painters progress, Sydney, 1997, (illus.).

Unknown (Editor), Australian readers: discovering democracy, 'Family comes first', pg. 56, Carlton South, 2002, 57 (colour illus.). Upper Secondary school text book. Includes the poem 'Nationality' by Dame Mary Gilmore.