Thursday, 26 July 2012

Storm approaching Wangi

Having spent the 1930s in England and Europe - to begin with on a travelling scholarship - the death of his father lured Dobell back to Australia. He had no idea the angst and heartache that lay in store for him; Amidst the adulation and success of his craft, of course. Between his return in 1939 and his death in 1970 (of a heart attack, not colon cancer), Bill won the Archibald Prize in 1943, 1948, and 1959, as well as winning the Wynne Prize for Landscape in 1948.

For much of this controversial period, Dobell lived in assorted seedy flats in Darlinghurst Road, Kings Cross, 100 metres from Mary Gilmore in the same street; she of course, was old enough to be his mother, and, Dobell being gay, the friendship was strong but platonic. As were friendships with many creative people who congregated in this small bohemian area, people like Kenneth Slessor, Thelma Clune, and Christopher Brennan. They were the ones who helped Dobell continue when he was spat at in the street, when he received death threats through the post. He was a private, shy man, who was broken by the reaction to the 1943 court case over whether his painting of Josiah Smith was a portrait or a caricature. Dobell retreated to Wangi Wangi.

Wangi Wangi is a small village on the edge of Lake Macquarie where Bill's father, Robert, built a holiday house after WW1. The family spent increasing periods there after the death of their mother, Margaret, in 1930; Bill being the youngest of six. During WW2, with the Archibald controversy swirling around him, Dobell painted camouflage on buildings around the city, until he became a full-fledged war artist. By the end of the 1940s he had retreated to the shores of the lake, with his oldest sister, Alice, as house-keeper. It was Alice who swept the layers of dermatitus from his bedding each morning!

Seeing that most people in Australia have no idea who Hitler or Menzies were, there is buckley's that they know of Sir William Dobell. However, in the Art Gallery of NSW there is a wall devoted to him. His portrait of Olley is there, but both his portait of Smith and his "Storm Approaching Wangi" are in private hands. His portrait of Gilmore is owned by the gallery, but not currently hung.

I suspect it is "hooray for big sisters". Sadly, Alice died the year before Bill; but she was 85, whereas he was only 71.


Carole M. said...

great series; your historical references are indeed top class. So nicely constructed; thanks Julie

Jim said...

Fascinating history.
Sydney - City and Suburbs

Joe said...

Such fascinating history Julie. Dobell's artwork is to be admired. It is sad that creativity and fortune often never mix.

freefalling said...

"Seeing that most people in Australia have no idea who Hitler or Menzies were"
That's not true, is it?!

I did a project on William Dobell back in primary school.
It had pictures and everything!
Although I have no idea where I found those pictures coz we didn't have the internet back then in the olden days - you know, 1979.
I don't remember us even having a photocopier in primary school.

Julie said...

The reference to Hitler is based on polling, the one to Menzies guessed at. I bet they are both true the younger the population polled is.

Back in project days, we used to be able to buy from the newsagent folders (like folded maps) on various topics, frequently Australian. I bet that is where you got your glossies.

In primary school you would have had a gestetner based on metho and purple 'ink' ....