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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.

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William Dobell part one

In their own words

Recorded 1961

William Dobell part one
Audio: 2 minutes

I’ve often been asked why I became an artist. It was just a natural thing, I always wanted to draw, just as almost every kiddy does. But with me it just stuck, and all through school I liked drawing much better than any of the other lessons., as a matter of fact I was very poor at the other lessons. In the town of Newcastle where I lived there were no opportunities to study art, so I took the next best thing. I became apprenticed to an architect. Although that was mechanical drawing, in a way it satisfied me for the time being.

Then I was able to come to Sydney later on, and I gave away architecture and started to study art at an art school.

As you go through studying, you get more and more keen, and then – well, you just get into it. I went away to England on scholarships and studied abroad and saw the best works all around the world. It really becomes a mania, eventually, in art.

I have often been asked what it is that makes me want to paint certain people. Well, I think, first of all, it’s the interesting form, the sculptural form of the person and the strong characters of a person, the strong individuality. And I strive for that. I don’t know whether other artists do it or not, but personally I like to fit them to my style. I see them as my style of painting and try to bring that style first. It’s a sculptural technique, more like sculpture than painting. And if I see those things in a person, well, I strive for it like a piece of sculpture. I particularly like the Gothic type of sculpture, and I try to get that into my better works.

Acknowledgements

This oral history of William Dobell is from the De Berg Collection in the National Library of Australia. For more information, or to hear full versions of the recordings, visit the National Library of Australia website.

Audio source

National Library of Australia, Hazel de Berg collection

Related people

William Dobell

Related information

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.

Home and away

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2009

Sir William Dobell painted the portraits of Sir Charles Lloyd Jones and Sir Hudson Fysh, who did much to promote the image of Australia in this country and abroad.

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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 National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency