The Billy Boy (1943), oil on cardboard & hardboard 70.2 x 53.4cm was painted by Australian artist Sir William Dobell (OBE). Dobell, was born on 24th September 1899, in a suburb of the New South Wales city of Newcastle. In 1929, Dobell was awarded the Society of Artists’ – Travelling Scholarship to the UK and the following year he won First Prize for figure painting. After 10 years travelling and painting throughout Europe, Dobell returned to Australia and commenced part-time art teaching at the East Sydney Technical College.
During the years of WW2, he was drafted into the Civil Construction Corps of the Allied Works Council, as a camouflage painter and also became an unofficial war artist. It was during this time that he painted “The Billy Boy“. which is on display at the Australian War Memorial in the capital city of Canberra. According to their website he wrote the following about his model:
“He was a Glasgow Irishman … his name was Joe Westcott. He was more interested in political argument than boiling the billy – which was his only job. Whenever we were waiting for our tea at morning or afternoon smoko, Joe, a dinkum bush lawyer, was trying to shout someone else down in an earbashing contest, and we often had to boil our own billy. I painted him at Rathmines Air Base, where I worked on camouflage with Joshua Smith and a lot of other artists”.
In same year that Dobell painted “The Billy Boy” he also painted the year’s Archibald Prize winner, the portrait of Joshua Smith, entitled “Portrait of an Artist“. This painting was contested by two unsuccessful Archibald Prize entrants, who brought a lawsuit against Dobell and the Gallery’s Board of Trustees in the Supreme Court of New South Wales on the grounds that the painting was a caricature. The claim was dismissed and the award was upheld, but the ordeal left Dobell emotionally disturbed and he retreated to his sister’s home near Lake Macquarie in New South Wales, where he began to paint landscapes, where he lived until he died on 13 May 1970.
For further information on William Dobell you can see or read the following:
- “Yours Sincerely, Bill Dobell” (1981) Brian Adams and Cathy Shirley, Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC).
- “Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of William Dobell” by Brian Adams, Hutchinson Publishing Group, 1983 (rev. ed. 1993 Random House Australia pbk ed.)
- “William Dobell: An Artist’s Life” by Elizabeth Donaldson, (2010) with the support of the Sir William Dobell Art Foundation and Dobell House, in Wangi Wangi, NSW. Published by Exile Publishing