Italian-born artist and art teacher Antonio Salvatore Dattilo Rubbo was born in Naples on 21 June 1870 and spent his early childhood in Frattamaggiore. He studied painting under Domenico Morelli and Filippo Palizzi before emigrating to Australia, arriving in Sydney in 1897.
According to Australian art critic Robert Hughes, Dattilo Rubbo was not considered a great artist and that – “muddy genre portraits of very wrinkled old Tuscan peasants were his strong suit,” but he was an inspiring art teacher, responsible for introducing a whole generation of Australian painters to modernism through his art school (opened in 1898) and his classes at the Royal Art Society of New South Wales.
- In contrast to nearly all other art teachers in Australia at the time, he was not a reactionary, and encouraged his students to experiment with styles as radically different from his own as post-Impressionism and cubism.
- Rubbo taught in Sydney schools including St. Joseph’s College, Hunters Hill, Kambala, (private girls school), The Scots College and Newington College.
He was a flamboyant character who believed in championing his students to the hilt; indeed, in 1916 he challenged a committee member of the Royal Art Society to a duel because he had refused to hang a post-impressionist landscape by his pupil Roland Wakelin.
Other students included:
- Norah Simpson, Frank Hinder, Grace Cossington Smith (whom Dattilo Rubbo referred to affectionately as ‘Mrs Van Gogh’),
- Donald Friend (“Aha Donaldo, always the barocco; rub it out, boy, rub it out!“),
- Roy De Maistre, war artist Roy Hodgkinson, Archibald Prize winner Arthur Murch, social realist Roy Dalgarno, Tom Bass, and many more.
In 1924 he helped to found the Manly Art Gallery and Historical Collection which holds over one hundred and thirty of his works. He died in Sydney on 1 June, 1955.
“Is It Art?”