Waldemar does Dobson
September 23 2011
Picture: Ferens Art Gallery
If you missed Waldemar's programme on William Dobson last night, then you can still watch it on iPlayer here. I thought it was enjoyable and enlightening, as Waldemar's shows usually are. There were a few slightly dubious sweeping generalisations, but the theme of the piece, that Dobson was a brilliant artist, certainly held up well. There was even a discovery of sorts, that the above 'Portrait of a Musician' showed William Lawes, a favourite of Charles I (hence the bust of the King lower left).
What the programme did not answer was why, if Dobson was so good, is he seemingly so neglected? Waldemar said Dobson 'changed British art forever' - so what then is his legacy?
The sad truth is that Dobson did not change British art. Here's three reasons why: [More below]
- Because despite Dobson's brilliance with the brush, he essentially painted in the same vein as the man who really did change British art forever, Anthony Van Dyck. Dobson was patronised by the Court (just as Robert Walker was patronised by the Parliamentarians) specifically because he continued the Van Dyckian, baroque presentation of his sitters (albeit with more individuality) which had by then come to define power, prestige and wealth.
- The English, until later in the 18th Century, were not really interested in art. They were more interested in themselves - hence the almost total dominance of portraiture in English art in the 17th Century. They couldn't care less that they had to rely on foreigners to paint them (Lely, Kneller, Dahl, Closterman etc. etc.), and so there was no encouragement for a native English school of art to follow in Dobson's footsteps.
- Dobson's surviving pictures (and he didn't paint that many) are relatively well hidden, mostly in private collections. There have been only half a dozen Dobsons sold at auction in the last 20 years (the most expensive of which was discovered and sold by us), so there have been few opportunities to boost his profile. The last exhibition on Dobson was in 1983.