Lake Macquarie History

Sir William Dobell (1899-1970)

World renowned artist Sir William Dobell was born on 24 September 1899 in Newcastle, NSW. After finishing school he worked in several jobs including architecture. He was working as a draughtsman when he started night classes at the Julian Ashton School in Sydney, where his talent was soon recognised. He subsequently travelled in Europe and England and attended the Slade School of Fine Art in London, returning home in 1938 to assist his ill father.

photo: sir william dobell

In 1943 Dobell won the Archibald Prize with his painting of Joshua Smith. The judges' decision was challenged unsuccessfully by two other entrants on the basis that the painting was not a portrait but a caricature. The court case left him emotionally drained and he returned to his father's holiday house at Wangi Wangi to recuperate. During his recovery time here, the scenery of the Wangi Wangi area fired his imagination and lead to a series of sketches and eventually back to painting. "Storm Approaching Wangi" won him the Wynne Prize for landscape in 1948. In that same year his portrait of Margaret Olley won the Archibald Prize. In 1958 he underwent an operation for cancer. He won his third Archibald Prize in January 1960 for a portrait of his surgeon E. G. MacMahon.

Dobell was appointed O.B.E. in 1965, and was knighted in 1966.

Sir William Dobell died on 13 May 1970 at Wangi Wangi. According to his wishes, his estate was used to establish the Sir William Dobell Art Foundation.

The Sir William Dobell Memorial Committee is responsible for the collection that contains information and objects relevant to researchers and visitors alike. On the 19th of September 1970 the committee drew up its constitution, which helped pave the way to "preserve a dedicated memory to the contribution that Dobell has made to Art in the Lake Macquarie area". This constitution also helped to ensure that there were premises available for study and to exhibit artworks in the Wangi area.

Dobell House is situated at:

47 Dobell Drive
Wangi Wangi, NSW, 2267

William Dobell interviewed by Hazel de Berg in the Hazel de Berg collection at the National Library of Australia

William Dobell interviewed by James Gleeson in the Hazel de Berg collection at the National Library of Australia


Mary Eagle, 'Dobell, Sir William (1899–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 15 April 2019.

Hodges-Linton, Betty 1994, Dobell House, B Hodges-Linton, Wangi Wangi [N.S.W.]