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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The Gallery’s Acknowledgement of Country, and information on culturally sensitive and restricted content and the use of historic language in the collection can be found here.

Study for Portrait of W S Robinson

1952
William Dobell

oil on board (frame: 46 cm x 52.5 cm, support: 31.0 cm x 38.0 cm)

William Robinson (1876-1963), businessman, industrialist and diplomat, profoundly influenced the development of many Australian mining companies. He worked as a commercial editor on the Age and made his first investments in the textiles industry before a visit to Broken Hill sparked his interest in mining. Entering into a partnership with his brother in his London stockbroking company, he began to advise on the expansion of mines over a large area of Queensland and New South Wales, from Cloncurry to Broken Hill. Robinson was crucial to the moulding of Australian policy on non-ferrous metals during and after World War I, and acted as the Prime Minister’s personal adviser on the lead and zinc industries until 1920. In 1930, he coordinated a group of Australian and international financiers to form Gold Mines of Australia (GMA). Western Mining Corporation developed out of GMA in 1933 to number amongst the base metal mining companies combined as the Collins House group. During World War 2 the enormous task of dovetailing British demand for base metals with Australia’s (and other) sources of supply fell to Robinson, and he endured a phenomenal amount of punishing international travel to ensure there were no bottlenecks in vital supplies and raw materials for the allied war effort. Robinson’s memoirs, If I remember rightly, were published in 1967.

Sir William Dobell OBE (1899–1970) trained at the Julian Ashton School before spending ten years abroad, studying at the Slade School and exhibiting at the Royal Academy. When he returned, he was hailed as a modernist. After working in a camouflage unit he was appointed an official war artist; as such, he produced some of his most inspired portraits including The Billy Boy, one of Australia’s best-loved, and supposedly defining, artworks. In 1943 his strange portrait of his fellow artist, Joshua Smith, won the Archibald Prize; but the court case that ensued over whether the work was a portrait or a caricature caused great distress to both artist and sitter. In 1948 he won the Archibald less controversially with his portrait of Margaret Olley, and he won the Wynne Prize for landscape the same year. A third successful Archibald painting followed in 1959, and Time commissioned his portrait of Robert Menzies for its cover in 1960. The Art Gallery of New South Wales held a huge Dobell retrospective in 1964. After the artist’s death his entire estate went to the creation of the Dobell Foundation, which benefits various organisations and funds the Chair of Fine Arts at the Australian National University.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased with funds provided by L Gordon Darling AC CMG 2003
© William Dobell/Copyright Agency, 2021

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

William Dobell (age 53 in 1952)

William S. Robinson (age 76 in 1952)

Subject professions

Business, trades and industry

Supported by

The Gordon Darling Foundation (36 portraits supported)

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Dr Edward MacMahon, 1959 by William Dobell
Dr Edward MacMahon, 1959 by William Dobell
Dr Edward MacMahon, 1959 by William Dobell
Dr Edward MacMahon, 1959 by William Dobell

Bill and Ted's excellent portrait.

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2016

Sarah Engledow on Messrs Dobell and MacMahon and the art of friendship.

Sir Lawrence Wackett
Sir Lawrence Wackett
Sir Lawrence Wackett
Sir Lawrence Wackett

Starry knight

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2010

Aircraft designer, pilot and entrepreneur, Sir Lawrence Wackett rejoins friends and colleagues on the walls of the National Portrait Gallery.

© National Portrait Gallery 2021
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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency