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Sir William Dobell Foundation

The Sir William Dobell Art Foundation was established upon the death of William Dobell in 1970 for ‘the benefit and promotion of art in New South Wales’, according to the terms of his will. It was a deliberately broad brief and decisions regarding projects the foundation would fund were left at the discretion of the trustees. Tony Clune, Dobell’s sole executor, appointed Charles Lloyd Jones and Franco Belgiorno-Nettis as trustees, while Dobell’s biographer, the artist James Gleeson, was appointed art director and Thelma Clune, archivist.

The foundation was established from the proceeds of the disposal of Dobell’s estate, which included an auction of works from his studio. Dobell’s work had become increasingly popular with collectors, and the sale was held three years after his death, at the (then) new Sydney Opera House, ensuring the greatest possible attention. It was also the first auction conducted by Sotheby’s in Australia.

In his will, Dobell suggested a broad range of possible activities for the foundation, including the establishment of an art prize or prizes, but his intention was to allow the trustees of the foundation to use their own judgment in allotting funds to various projects for the encouragement of Australian art and artists. Over the years the foundation has sponsored many diverse projects. The Dobell Prize for Drawing at the Art Gallery of NSW was largely the initiative of one of the foundation directors, James Gleeson. Established in 1993, it pays due recognition to the importance of drawing in William Dobell’s art, as well as encouraging excellence in draughtsmanship by artists working now.

Adapted from Contemporary Australian drawing: 20 years of the Dobell Drawing Prize

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