Important Australian + International Fine Art
30 April 2014


(1899 - 1970)

oil on board

21.0 x 15.0 cm

signed lower right: W DOBELL

$25,000 - 35,000
Sold for $45,600 (inc. BP) in Auction 35 - 30 April 2014, Melbourne

Ronald Millen, Sydney
Mervyn Horton, Sydney
Joseph Brown Gallery, Melbourne
Private collection, Melbourne, acquired from the above in 1983


Margaret Preston and William Dobell Loan Exhibition, National Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 19 March - 16 April 1942 (as 'A Bather', lent by R. Millen, label attached verso)
The Art of William Dobell, John Martin's Art Gallery, as part of the Adelaide Festival of Arts, Adelaide, 11-26 March 1960 (as 'The Boy Bathing', lent by Mr Horton, label attached verso)
Dobell - One Man, War Memorial Gallery of Fine Arts, The University of Sydney, Sydney, April 1960 (label attached verso)
William Dobell Retrospective, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 15 July - 30 August 1964 (lent by Mervyn Horton, label attached verso)
William Dobell Exhibition, Bendigo Art Gallery, Victoria, November 1964 (label attached verso)


Penton, B., 'Introduction', in Ure Smith, S., (ed.), The Art of William Dobell, Ure Smith Pty Limited, Sydney, 1946, p. 56 (illus.)
Gleeson, J., William Dobell, Thames and Hudson, London, 1964, p. 18, cat. 79, pl. 29 (illus.)
Gleeson, J., William Dobell, The World of Art Library, Thames and Hudson, London, 1969, pp. 25-26, pl. 6 (illus.)
Thomas, D., 'The Mervyn Horton collection', Art and Australia, Spring 1983, p. 78 (illus., as 'A Bather')

Catalogue text

The paintings of William Dobell provide our art with a range of characters that capture much of the nature and disposition of Australians, and how we see others. We know the hen pecked, but what could rival the image of the one that pecks when looking at Mrs South Kensington, 1937 (Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney). Even the paint surface is scratched and bothered, revealing the highly individual way in which Dobell employed technique, the way he actually applied paint to surface, to establish the personality of his subject. The groomed elegance of The Strapper, 1941 (Newcastle Art Gallery, New South Wales) belongs to him whose job it is to give such care to horses; and The Billy Boy, 1943 (Australian War Memorial, Canberra), shows the ever convivial bludger whose daily toil consists of boiling the billy. Then there are the actual portraits - the unforgettable Margaret Olley, 1948 and Dame Mary Gilmore, 1957 to mention but two.1

The model for Boy Bathing, 1939 and the interior subject, Boy Washing, c1933, was fellow artist, John Passmore. Impecunious in London, they shared a studio and acted as models for each other.2 The subject of Boy Bathing, however, is the nude male figure, not the exploration of the creative individual, the artist. Dobell left that for his brilliant portrait of Joshua Smith, winner of the controversial 1943 Archibald Prize under the title of Portrait of an Artist. While the nude was a reasonably rare subject in Dobell's oeuvre, he did pay it quite a bit of attention during the thirties. The Slade Nude, 1930 (Newcastle Art Gallery) is the work of a very gifted student. Nude (Art Gallery of New South Wales), painted within in the year, reveals extraordinary development through the study of the Old Masters, such as Rembrandt. But the leap forward in Boy Bathing is greater. Now back in Sydney, Dobell based it on a London study, the closeness of poses in Boy Washing and Boy Bathing suggesting a common source, or that Dobell developed the latter from the former. Colour enchants the eye, the freedom of the handling of the paint adding to the rhythmic flow and elegance that distinguishes so much of his mature work. Recognition was at hand. In 1939 the Art Gallery of New South Wales bought Boy at the Basin, 1932, his first work to be acquired by a public art gallery, followed by the Art Gallery of South Australia in 1940.3 In 1941 Dobell and Margaret Preston were invited to have a joint exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. It was Dobell's first 'solo' show, and Boy Bathing was one of the paintings he chose to include.

1. Both are in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales
2. Gleeson, J., William Dobell, Thames and Hudson, London, 1964, p. 18
3. Boy at the Basin had been exhibited at the Royal Academy, London, in 1933, and received favourable press notice. The Art Gallery of South Australia purchased The Yellow Glove, 1938