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 Wolinski).
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 country.
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." William Dobell Quote
Joshua 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 the artist.
"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 Dobell Quote
"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 Dobell Quote