The Mystery behind William Dobell's 'The Cypriot'

The Mystery behind William Dobell’s ‘The Cypriot’

In 1940, William Dobell (1899-1970) returned to Australia soon after 10 several years in Europe. He accomplished The Cypriot (illustrated) that identical yr, a portrait of his good friend Aegus Gabrielides. Was it the initially big portray he developed, and what is the thriller powering the perform?

Relevant: The lifestyle and art of William Dobell

DELVE Further: The Cypriot

Dobell was renowned for his incisive portraits, and gained the Archibald Prize for portraiture a few times (1943, 1948 and 1959). He often embellished features of his sitter’s visual appeal in order to attract out their most exclusive features. This is genuine of his portrait of Gabrielides, the young person who regards us with indifference.

William Dobell ‘Study for the portray The Cypriot’

Study for the painting 'The Cypriot' 1937
William Dobell, Australia 1899-1970 / Review for the portray The Cypriot 1937 / Pen and brown ink, pencil on paper / Gift of the Sir William Dobell Foundation 1976 / Selection: Nationwide Gallery of Australia, Canberra / © Courtesy Sir William Dobell Artwork Basis / Copyright Agency / Graphic courtesy: NGA

Gabrielides was a Greek waiter who worked in the London cafe frequented by Dobell in the 1930s. When Dobell’s early sketches portray an unassuming determine (illustrated), the completed portray offers a considerably more imposing character.

When painting a portrait, Dobell generally concluded a sequence of pencil sketches in the sitter’s presence, seeking to capture key traits. He would then embark on a variety of little studies in gouache or oil, each individual reflecting a various temper, then would paint the remaining version of the portrait based mostly on these preliminary sketches, picking the most insightful as a guide, but functioning neither directly from it, nor his product.

Glance intently at the X-ray of the painting (illustrated). You can plainly distinguish the picture of The Cypriot.

X-ray of ‘The Cypriot’

Radiographic graphic of The Cypriot 1940 

William Dobell ‘The Cypriot’

William Dobell, Australia 1899-1970 / The Cypriot 1940 / Oil on canvas / 123.3 x 123.3cm / Reward of the Godfrey Rivers Have confidence in as a result of Pass up Daphne Mayo 1943 / Selection: Queensland Artwork Gallery | Gallery of Fashionable Artwork / © QAGOMA

Now if we rotate the portray 90 degrees to the left, what this reveals is that there is one more finished painting which lies underneath The Cypriot.

X-ray of ‘The Cypriot’ rotated displaying below-painting

Radiographic image of William Dobell’s The Cypriot 1940 showing abandoned underpainting of Boy lounging and his gouache on cardboard Study for 'Boy lounging' 1937 from The Art Gallery of New South Wales collection
Radiographic picture of The Cypriot 1940 displaying abandoned under-painting

X-ray of ‘The Cypriot’ rotated

Radiographic impression of The Cypriot 1940

Now review the X-ray with the modest watercolour analyze from the Art Gallery of New South Wales called Boy lounging 1937. Obviously our X-ray also includes the ‘bones’ of Boy lounging which lies concluded and unseen beneath The Cypriot.

‘Study for ‘Boy lounging and X-ray of ‘The Cypriot’ demonstrating less than-portray

Radiographic image of William Dobell’s The Cypriot 1940 showing abandoned underpainting of Boy lounging and his gouache on cardboard Study for 'Boy lounging' 1937 from The Art Gallery of New South Wales collection
(Appropriate) Radiographic picture of William Dobell’s The Cypriot 1940 demonstrating abandoned underpainting of Boy lounging and his gouache on cardboard Research for ‘Boy lounging’ 1937 (Remaining) from The Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Why did Dobell paint around his first portray?

Dobell was nonetheless lousy, doing work with aged brushes that experienced dried on the journey residence to Australia. The abundance of brush hairs embedded in the painting’s area are testimony to this. Chemical investigation of the paint layers demonstrate that he was using a blend of oil-primarily based house paints and artist’s paints.

The artist’s economic circumstance, the massive space of canvas to deal with, as very well as the scarcity of artist’s oil paints (owing to their requisition for use by official war artists all through Globe War II) all contributed to a combination of paints becoming used. Economics may well also account for Dobell’s re-use of the stretcher and canvas.

On his return, the publisher Sydney Ure Smith promoted Dobell as the ‘heir to George Lambert’ (1873-1930), and the artist felt compelled to produce his greatest function. But Boy lounging was not the ‘masterpiece’ the artist had aspired to deliver on his return.

George W Lambert ‘Self portrait’

George W Lambert, Australia/England 1873-1930 / Self portrait (unfinished) c.1907 / Oil on canvas / 92.1 x 71.3cm / Gift of Dr Robert Graham Brown 1942 / Collection: Queensland Artwork Gallery | Gallery of Modern Artwork

Sad with the finish of the painting, Dobell turned to the matter who experienced preoccupied him through his final 6 several years in London. His many reports for The Cypriot stood him in very good stead he painted Gabrielides with good assurance and spirit. This is the artist at the peak of his portray system. He attracts inspiration from previous grasp paintings he researched in Europe, this kind of as Italian Mannerist painter Agnolo di Cosimo, generally known as Bronzino (illustrated).

Dobell’s experienced model in The Cypriot reconciles the difficulties confronting a modernist painter who preferred to refer to vintage masters and to contemporary, inside tensions.

Edited extracts sourced from John Hook, previous Senior Conservator (Paintings), QAGOMA.

Agnolo di Cosimo ‘Portrait of Bartolomeo Panciatichi’

Agnolo di Cosimo, Italy 1503-72 / Portrait of Bartolomeo Panciatichi c.1540 / Oil on panel / 104 × 85cm / Collection: Uffizi, Florence


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