Important Australian + International Fine Art
16 April 2008

William Dobell

(1899 - 1970)

oil on composition board

16.5 x 18.5 cm

signed upper left: DOBELL

$25,000 - 35,000
Sold for $52,800 (inc. BP) in Auction 4 - 16 April 2008, Melbourne

Mrs Julie Rubin, Sydney
Christie's, Sydney, October 1973, lot 56
The Estate of Pro Hart, Broken Hill, New South Wales


William Dobell, War Memorial Gallery of Fine Arts, University of Sydney, 12 April 1960 (label attached verso)
William Dobell paintings from 1926 to 1964, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 15 July – 30 August 1964, cat. 92 (label attached verso)

Catalogue text

William Dobell turned to the subject of the mother and child only rarely in his long and fruitful career. The first was in London, in 1935, when he painted Mother and Child (once in Camille Gheysens' collection) and in 1937 with Cockney Mother (formerly in the collection of H. de Vahl Rubin), and again, in 1942. Three paintings date from that year - Young Mother; Mother and Child (once in the collection of Dr E. G. MacMahon, whose portrait won Dobell his third Archibald Prize in 1959); and this painting now on offer.

The presence of these paintings of motherhood in some of the most distinguished collections of Dobell's work, and the selection of several for his 1964 retrospective exhibition at Sydney's Art Gallery of New South Wales speak loudly of how highly they were regarded. The subject itself has interested some of the greatest painters in Western art when presented in the guise of the Madonna and Child. When looking at Dobell's Mother and Children one cannot but think that the feeling of love and maternal care it expresses was drawn from his own experiences. He was the youngest of six surviving children, and 'grew up within a circle of loving care, particularly from his mother, who sensed in him a lively inquisitiveness missing from her other children.'1 Moreover, as in Mother and Children, Dobell had preferred to depict the well-endowed woman, and many such women people many of his paintings - none better than The Red Lady, 1937, in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. There is also his luxuriously fruitful portrait, Margaret Olley, winner of the 1948 Archibald. All his family paintings of 1942 epitomise the fruitful, mother-provider, captured in a harmony of echoing curves, enveloping her little ones with protective care. In Mother and Children, she reigns in simple dignity as the matriarch, taking pride in her progeny and pleasure in their playfulness - it is an icon of maternal love.

1. Adams, Brian, Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of William Dobell, Hutchinson of Australia, Melbourne, 1983, p. 39