Farmyard, Dorking 1934 signed and dated 'William Dobell 34' lower right oil on canvas 76.0 x 61.2cm (29 15/16 x 24 1/8in).
PROVENANCE Dr Isaac Muende, London (purchased from the artist) Muende family, 1987 Deutscher Fine Art, Melbourne The Reg Grundy AC OBE and Joy Chambers-Grundy Collection, acquired in 1988
EXHIBITED Australian Art: 1790s-1970s, Deutscher Fine Art, Melbourne, 24 November - 9 December 1988, cat. no. 40 William Dobell: The Painters Progress, touring exhibition, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 14 February 27 April 1997; Newcastle Region Art Gallery, Newcastle, 7 May 6 July 1997; Museum of Modern Art at Heide, Melbourne, 29 July 21 September 1997; Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 25 October 7 December 1997; Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart, 8 January 1 March 1998, cat. no. 14B
LITERATURE 'Dobell art find: two-sided painting cost £10', Sunday Telegraph, Sydney, 26 September 1965, (illus.) 'Artist Talks on rare find', Newcastle Sun, 27 September 1965 Australian Art: 1790s-1970s, Deutscher Fine Art, Melbourne, 1988, cat. no. 40 (illus. and cover) Barry Pearce and Hendrik Kolenberg, William Dobell: The Painters Progress, Beagle Press, Sydney, 1997, pp. 34, 54, 55 (illus.) Elizabeth Donaldson, William Dobell: An Artist's Life, Exisle Publishing Ltd, Wollombi, New South Wales, 2010, p. 34 (illus.)
William Dobell was born in 1899 in Cooks Hill, a working class, inner-suburb of Newcastle. William, the youngest of six children, was a quiet, reserved child who loved drawing. When he was 16, Dobell was apprenticed to a local architect, Wallace Porter. This position offered him an outlet to enjoy his love of drawing.
In 1925, after Porter's death, Dobell left Newcastle to work as a draughtsman at Wunderlich in Sydney. He now had the time and money to attend night classes at the Sydney Art School run by prominent artist Julian Ashton.
In 1929, Dobell won first prize in the prestigious Society of Artists' Travelling Scholarship, allowing him to leave Australia for England and Europe. In London, Dobell attended the Slade School and was taught by prominent artists - Henry Tonks (1862-1937) for figure drawing and Wilson Steer (1860-1942) for landscape. He also took private lessons with one of Wilson Steer's former students, Sir William Orpen (1878-1931). During the first years of Dobell's London era, these three men had a profound influence on his maturing art.
Finally Dobell was able to satisfy his artistic hunger, visiting museums and galleries in London, Holland, Belgium and Paris. In the 1930s, Australia was a long way from England and Europe and many of the students Dobell was mixing with would have grown up being able to view the works of the great masters, while he in Australia, particularly with his working class background, would rarely, if ever, have had access to study reproductions. He was also now exposed to the works of the Impressionists whose work had largely been kept out of Australia by the then small, but very conservative art community.
In general Dobell's landscapes were influenced by the Impressionists, Renoir in particular, but he rarely painted 'en plein air'. Dobell did not like to be seen painting, so carried a sketchbook wherever he went, much as a writer might carry a diary, recording scenes and people that captured his artistic eye. He used these and his prodigious memory to create his paintings back in his studio. This is a pattern he continued for the rest of his career.
When Dobell lived in London in the 1930s, he made a few excursions to the counties of Surrey, Devon and Dorset, recording images in his sketchbooks to be used later in his studio. Farmyard, Dorking is an excellent example of these works sketched first and painted later.
Dobell's landscapes are rarely just scenes they almost always include human activity such as the farm workers in Farmyard, Dorking. The farm workers have not been included for interest sake but like most of his landscapes, human activity is central to the art and here the workers strain to pull tarpaulins over harvested crops. By doing this Dobell instantly changes a simple farm scene into a story of busy farm activity. The subtle inclusion of white chickens pecking at the ground is not just an addition to enhance the farmyard theme. It is very likely Dobell's acknowledgement of the famous Dorking breed of fowl one of the oldest known English breeds said to have been brought to England from Italy by the Romans.
By 1934, when this painting was executed, Dobell had been in England for five years and he would have been exposed to the Art Deco movement and the beginnings of the modern movement. Dobell was a self confessed 'experimenter' and this painting may well be his exploration of the geometric forms of the Art Deco movement. His architectural background would also have influenced the style and treatment of this work. His love of drawing is an essential element in Farmyard, Dorking, with its strong lines and strict composition.
While Farmyard, Dorking is a move away from Dobell's developing Impressionist influenced landscapes, he has none the less been true to his traditional training using strong elements of drawing and structure. He achieves this with a geometric composition of circles and triangles, the straight line contrasting with the curve. He compliments this composition with the depiction of the 'group activity' of the farmyard workers. This group activity is not a common aspect of landscapes from Dobell's London era.
Farmyard, Dorking can be regarded as a precursor to Dobell's wartime paintings as an official artist for the Australian Allied Works Council. In his wartime paintings Dobell once again includes group activity as he captures men engaged in constructive, non-aggressive pursuits.
Dobell was essentially an urban artist and the landscapes he painted during his London era are primarily urban streetscapes and park scenes. Farmyard, Dorking is a rare example of Dobell portraying a true countryside landscape and is a fine example of his early technique.
In 1965, in an article in the Sunday Telegraph, Farmyard, Dorking surfaced for the first time in thirty-one years after having been in the private collection of London specialist, Dr Isaac Muende. Dr Muende had met the young, struggling artist William Dobell in 1934. Dobell offered the doctor a canvas that was painted on both sides a portrait of a woman on one side and a farmyard scene on the other. When asked how much he wanted for it Dobell tentatively replied "Five pounds, is that too much?". Dr Muende responded with "Nonsense, you are giving me two paintings. Take 10 guineas or nothing". Dobell rarely painted on canvas, preferring timber board for its smooth surface and cheaper cost, and would have used both sides as canvas was expensive.
When Dobell was approached about the painting's re-emergence he said: "It was only a student work and I'm afraid the doctor didn't get his money's worth. I must have needed the money very badly to sell it".
History has refuted Dobell's claims. The 1934 painting of a farmyard scene, known as Farmyard, Dorking, is a unique piece as a result of its composition, painting style and setting, and is widely considered one of the important works from Dobell's early London era.
References Barry Pierce, et. al., William Dobell, the painter's progress, exh. cat., Beagle Press, Sydney, 1997, p. 34 James Gleeson, William Dobell, Thames Hudson, London 1964, p. 36-37, 60, 153, 163 Elizabeth Donaldson, William Dobell: An Artist's Life, Exisle Publishing Ltd, Wollombi, New South Wales, 2010 Sunday Telegraph, 26 September 1965
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