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William Dobell, an artist’s life

William Dobell,    An artist’s Life

Elizabeth Donaldson has written a book that brings this fine artist to life.  It is produced  by Exisle Publishing, directed in Australia by Anouska Jones.

 Having for many years had an association with his house at Wangi in New South Wales and feeling that the full story of the life of Sir William Dobell had not been told, Elizabeth has produced an excellent biography that is profusely illustrated with photographs and images of the master’s work.  Artists are, in my experience, invariably people of place and the humble cottage at Wangi built by the artist’s father was to be his home and base for his adventures and inspiration throughout the latter part of his life.  

I visited him there on several occasions when I was a student at his old school, The Sydney Art School, where he had studied with Julian Rossi Ashton and Henry Cornwallis Gibbons.  He was pleased to reminisce about his student days and spoke fondly of Julian Ashton, who had acquired one of his first paintings.  One of his fellow students at the school at that time was Joshua Smith, the subject of the famously  contested Archibald Prize in 1942.

This informative book has been a labour of love for the author, staunchly supported by her husband Robert and it was my privilege to be invited to launch the book at the Newcastle Art Gallery on Friday 24th September  2010.

This book is a “must collect” for every Australian art library.


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Artist Joshua Smith at the Royal Art Society

Joshua Smith at The Royal Art Society

With Judy Pennefather FRAS, President of R A S

Through Julian, Howard and Richard Ashton my family has had a long history with the Royals and I was delighted to be invited to open the Joshua Smith exhibition at their gallery.  

The President,  Judy Pennefather FRAS, together with her wise committee of Fellows and the stalwart Secretary, Christine Feher,  provide the members, of which I am proud to be one,  with an ongoing legacy of inspired leadership in the art world.      

It is my belief that art societies in Australia are important, not just for the fellowship they provide for artists, but also for the articulate voice they provide on behalf of their profession. If you sought justice in a court of law, received an adverse decision and subsequently discovered that the judge and your wise counsel had never studied law,  you would be indignant.   Artists entering competitions sometimes experience this.   Societies are made up of fine art  practitioners.  As such they  are, in my opinion, the best judges of art.  Without wishing to lessen the importance of academics and gallery directors, who are a vital part of the equation,  I think there is a strong desire among artists to be judged by their peers.

Yve Close was a lifelong friend and colleague of the late Joshua Smith.  Having published a book on his life and organised several exhibitions of his work,  it was by Yve’s inspiration that an exhibition  was celebrated this year by the Sydney cultural icon, The Royal Art Society of New South Wales, of which he had been a proud  Fellow.  The exhibition was entitled  “Unsung Master” – and a master of painting and drawing he certainly was.  Joshua was trained at the Julian Ashton Art School, where his significant contemporary was William Dobell.    The famous court case which resulted from the contesting of the Trustees decision to award The Archibald Prize to a portrait of Joshua by Dobell tragically had a long term traumatic effect on both the artist and the sitter.  

It was Yve Close and her husband John who assisted Joshua Smith with unfailing support to enable him to go on to enjoy a notable career as an artist and teacher.  He was a frequent visitor to Ashton’s and I have fond memories of those occasions and our long discussions about artists and art.


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With Charles Blackman in Melbourne

With Artist Charles Blackman in Melbourne

for the opening of The Blackman Hotel

In August 2010 Auguste Blackman invited me to come to Melbourne to make a speech for his father, Charles Blackman, on the occasion of the launching of a hotel named for him as part of a series of Art Hotels.  We were ferried from the airport to our destination in a bus bearing Blackman images to St Kilda Road where we were greeted by an enormous backlit Alice.  The crowded foyer of the huge hotel was decked with Charles’s Alice paintings and soon themed celebrations were in full swing.   A banqueting table seating over a hundred luncheon guests was decorated with sculpted rabbits, foliage and elements from Blackman paintings.   Through the foliage Bertie Blackman, songwriter/singer daughter of Charles made herself visible across the table, delighted to be with her father in Melbourne.   Charles remained dignified and outwardly unaffected by it all, although I am sure he was pleased by the attention of so many admirers of his work and especially happy to pick up a crayon when a model was provided by the hotel  for those so inclined to draw.   I felt that the naming of the fine hotel was an excellent start.  There should be Mount Blackman and following that – a comet.   Comment has been made of his supposed frailty of late but I know my old magician friend to be as sharp witted and as observant as ever.   Long may he live and draw, this grand old man of Australian Art.                            Paul