THE CART, c.1936

100 Highlights from the Cbus Collection of Australian Art
Melbourne
27 July 2022
26

WILLIAM DOBELL

(1899 - 1970)
THE CART, c.1936

oil on wood panel

29.5 x 35.5 cm

bears inscription on plaque attached verso: “The Cart” / William Dobell 
bears inscription with title on frame verso: The Cart 

Estimate: 
$40,000 – $60,000
Sold for $42,955 (inc. BP) in Auction 70 - 27 July 2022, Melbourne
Provenance

Walter and Hedy Magnus, Sydney, acquired directly from the artist (bears inscription verso) 
Thence by descent 
Michael Magnus, son of the above, from 1954 
Barry Stern Galleries, Sydney (inscribed verso, stock no. 23)
Southern Cross Galleries, Melbourne (partial label attached verso) 
Private collection
Leonard Joel, Melbourne, 9 November 1999, lot 180
Joseph Brown Gallery, Melbourne 
The Cbus Collection of Australian Art, Melbourne, acquired from the above on 11 November 1999

Exhibited

on long term loan to Wollongong City Gallery, New South Wales

Literature

Nainby, B., Stanhope, Z., and Furlonger, K., The Cbus Collection of Australian Art, in association with Latrobe Regional Gallery, Melbourne, 2009, pp. 59 (illus.), 217 

Catalogue text

The cart, c.1936, belongs to suite of paintings of worker’s vehicles that Dobell observed from the window of his studio in Pimlico in the heart of Cockney London. He had travelled to England in 1929 (having won the £500 Society of Artists’ travelling scholarship) and studied for a short time at the Slade School of Fine Art whilst taking private lessons from Sir William Orpen. He then travelled twice to Europe for short journeys absorbing the works of Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Velásquez and others before returning to London to continue painting. After a few years of frugal living, ‘poverty brought him to the dingiest bed-sitting rooms of Pimlico and Bayswater.’1 Dobell always carried a sketch book with him but hated people observing him at work so when the New Zealand artist Fred Coventry offered his colleague the use of his studio whilst away, Dobell found a perfect first-floor vantage point from which to observe the passing parade. This comprised ‘charladies, ‘nippies’ (housemaids), gossiping cockney women, traders with horse-drawn carts, women cleaning front steps and many others’2 whom he was able to sketch and paint without interruption. 

During these years, Dobell’s images oscillated between a crystalline realism and a semi-expressionist style which became more prominent in his paintings from the 1940s onwards. The cart belongs to the former category and he was no doubt drawn to the accidental composition of diagonals caused by the bicycles, plank and cart, contrasting with exclamation point of the shovel, the tangle of rope, and the circular forms of the wheels. It is, as described by his biographer James Gleeson, a scene where ‘the commonplace [becomes] unique; [Dobell] sees the ugly and paints it as though it was beautiful.’3The cart is a view of a now vanished London street life that even Mr Parkes (and son) would appreciate. In related works such as The dust cart, The dirt cart and The baker’s cart, Dobell distorts his subjects with busy brushwork but in The cart, he remains true to the original scene in a manner akin to his other London masterworks such as Boy at the basin, 1932, and A street in Pimlico, 1937 (both Art Gallery of New South Wales), and Billy Frost, 1932 (National Gallery of Australia). Dobell returned to Australia with The cart in 1939 where the painting was subsequently purchased by the expansive restauranteur Walter Magnus, whose own portrait by Dobell, Chez Walter, 1945 (National Gallery of Australia) is another highlight from the artist’s oeuvre.  

1. Gleeson, J., William Dobell, Thames and Hudson, London, 1964, pp.37 – 38
2. Donaldson, E., William Dobell: an artist’s life, Exisle Publishing, NSW, 2010, p.45
3. Gleeson, J., ibid., p.30

ANDREW GAYNOR