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William Dobell Portrait of an Artist Painting of Joshua Smith|
Title: Portrait of an Artist (Joshua Smith)
Oil on Canvas - 107 x 76cm
Australian artists - Famous
About the Portrait of an Artist Painting
William Dobell's 1943 portrait of the artist
Joshua Smith won the Archibald prize, but
was contested by two artists that had entered
and lost the prize (Mary Edwards and Joseph
The battle in court was a very public battle,
with everyone having an opinion on the issue.
It made Dobell a household name in Australia
and also made the Archibald prize in Sydney
the most well known art competition in the
The challenge was dismissed, but the stress
of the Archibald controversy took a toll on
the health of William Dobell. He fled Sydney
to the idyllic surrounds of Wangi Wangi on
Lake Macquarie, NSW.
"A sincere artist is not one who makes
a faithful attempt to put on to canvas what
is in front of him, but one tries to create
something which is, in itself, a living thing."
Smith's parents wanted to buy "Portrait
of an Artist" from William Dobell after
the controversy and the public spotlight it
put on the family, but Dobell refused to sell
it to them as he thought they may just want
to destroy the painting. Instead, he sold
it to Sir Edward Hayward.
In 1958 the work was burnt in a fire at Hayward's
home in Adelaide. The top half of the Joshua
Smith painting was destroyed beyond repair.
Sir Edward Hayward had the painting restored
in 1969 by the conservator Kenneth Malcolm,
but it was a poor version of the portrait.
It kept none of the atmospheric magic of Dobell's
original version of Joshua Smith and could
no longer be considered an original work by
"I just wanted to show a man in a
warm night light setting, and I wanted to
work in the sculptural setting - a light figure
in a dark setting - so I built it up as a
sculptor builds up any form; I glazed my colors
on to it." William
"So long as people expect paintings
to be simply coloured photographs they get
no individuality and in the case of portraits,
no characterisation. The real artist is striving
to depict his subjects character and
to stress the caricature, but at least it
is art which is alive." William
The famous Australian artist Brett Whiteley
referenced the Dobell Portrait of Joshua Smith
in his Archibald winning 1978 self portrait
Life, and the Other Thing.