Willim Dobell

Do you think William Dobell’s portrait of Joshua Smith constitutes a portrait?

I agree that William Dobell’s portrait of Joshua Smith constitutes a portrait.   There are many different styles of portraiture, and creating a realistic interpretation is only one way. Dobell was an artist who was interested in showing people’s character and personality, and this is demonstrated in his painting of Joshua Smith.

Traditional portraits at the time focused on a realistic approach.   Artists would spend a lot of time concentrating on how they were expected to paint a portrait, to make it look like the subject they were painting.   When Dobell’s portrait of Joshua Smith won the Archibald Prize there was a lot of controversy.   Other artists were angry that a painting that looked like a cartoon or caricature could win. Unsuccessful artists Mary Edwards and Joseph Wolinski actually contested William Dobell’s prize and brought a lawsuit against him and the gallery awarding the prize.   The reason was the painting looked like a caricature, and could not be seen as a work of art or portrait.

I think that the publicity should not have been all negative, as what William Dobell did was a change and something new, not just a boring old formal picture like all the other paintings.   It also made people think about what a portrait was, and who can say what a portrait is or is not.   He challenged people’s view of art.

A medical doctor at the time, Dr V. Benjafield, was asked to comment on the painting. He said it looked like ‘body of a man who had died in that position and remained in that position for a period of some months and had dried up’. The normal human neck has seven cervical vertebrae in it and he thought there would have to be at least ten to get the length of neck shown in the portrait.   Mary Edwards, the artist contesting William Dobell’s prize, said that pregnant woman shouldn’t go to the exhibition.  

All these negative comments and actions were attacking William Dobell...