Important Australian + International Fine Art
16 April 2008

William Dobell

(1899 - 1970)

gouache on card

15.5 x 19.0 cm

signed lower left: DOBELL stamped verso: 17 MAR 1945

$25,000 - 35,000
Sold for $26,400 (inc. BP) in Auction 4 - 16 April 2008, Melbourne

The Estate of Pro Hart, Broken Hill, New South Wales

Catalogue text

Sydney from Farm Cove, c.1939, is a rare, early, and previously unknown painting of Sydney Harbour by William Dobell. When the preliminary drawing of the subject, complete with colour notes, was offered for sale by the Sir William Dobell Foundation in 1973, the catalogue entry noted that, 'despite the colour notes, there is no known painting by Dobell of this subject.'1 Sketched on the spot, the spontaneity of the artist's initial response to the subject is carried over into the finished painting through the vivacity of his brushstrokes and the sparkling, sunlit atmosphere. Although Dobell is best remembered as one of Australia's greatest portrait painters, he was also highly gifted as a painter of the landscape. In 1948, he won the double crown of the Archibald Prize for his portrait of Margaret Olley and the Wynne prize for landscape painting with Storm Approaching Wangi.

Dobell painted landscapes from his earliest years, as seen in The Orchard, 1927, one of only six paintings from the 1920s that featured in the record-breaking Dobell retrospective, presented by the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1964. This interest continued in England and the Continent during the 1930s when, on the Society of Artists' Travelling Art Scholarship, Dobell painted such landscapes as Village in Somerset, 1930; Old Houses, Bruges, 1931; The White Horse Inn, Dorking, 1935; and numerous London street scenes. Returning to Sydney in late 1938, he began teaching at the East Sydney Technical College (now the National Art School) in August 1939. The fresh, spring-like colours suggest that Sydney from Farm Cove was painted about this time. The view across the blue waters of the Harbour shows the Royal Botanic Gardens, together with notable buildings such as the Conservatorium of Music and the more distant city skyline of domes and the Post Office tower in Martin Place. Two figures introduced into the immediate foreground add a human touch and point of identification for the viewer to share in their experience.

Few other oils from this year are known. Boy Bathing was once in the collection of art connoisseur and first editor of Art and Australia, Mervyn Horton, and Head of a Fair Boy is in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia. Dobell's focus was now on portraits, his gallery of masterpieces including The Cypriot, 1940 (Queensland Art Gallery), The Strapper, 1941, (Newcastle Region Art Gallery), and the 1943 Archibald award-winning portrait of Joshua Smith. Sydney from Farm Cove seems to be Dobell's first painting of Sydney Harbour, a subject he was not to return to until his paintings of the Opera House in the late 1960s.

1. Catalogue of Paintings and Drawings from the studio of Sir William Dobell, Sotheby's, Sydney, 19 November 1973, lot 34