William Dobson (4 March 1611 baptised 28 October 1646 buried) was a portraitist and one of the first notable English painters, praised by his contemporary John Aubrey as “the most excellent painter that England has yet bred”
Dobson was born in London, the son of a lawyer also called William Dobson He was apprenticed to William Peake and probably later joined the studio of Francis Cleyn Dobson is believed to have had access to the Royal Collection and to have copied works by Titian and Anthony van Dyck, the court painter of King Charles I of England The colour and texture of Dobson’s work was influenced by Venetian art, but Van Dyck’s style has little apparent influence on Dobson One story tells that Van Dyck himself discovered Dobson when he noticed one of the young artist’s pictures in a London shop window There is, however, no evidence to support this story, which is probably a romanticised Victorian invention, nor do we know how he gained his introduction to the King, who had Dobson paint himself, his sons and members of the court
Little is known of Dobson’s career in the 1630s, but when Van Dyck died in 1641, the opportunity arose for him to gain royal commissions from King Charles He is said to have become serjeant painter to the king and groom of the privy chamber, however, this claim comes from only one old and as yet unverified source, and should be read with caution During the English Civil War Dobson was based at the Royalist centre of Oxford and painted many leading Cavaliers His portrait of the future Charles II as Prince of Wales at the age of around twelve is a notable baroque composition, and perhaps his finest work He also painted at least the head of Duke of York, as well as portraits of leading Royalists such as Charles Lucas and John Byron, Prince Rupert of the Rhine and Prince Maurice
He was married twice, first to Elizabeth, whose surname is unknown, as is the date of their marriage She was buried in St Martin-in-the-Fields on 26 September 1634 On 18 December 1637 he married Judith Sander, who survived him
Around sixty of Dobson’s works survive, mostly half-length portraits dating from 1642 or later The thick impasto of his early work gave way to a mere skim of paint, perhaps reflecting a wartime scarcity of materials After Oxford fell to the Parliamentarians, in June 1646, Dobson returned to London Now without patronage, he was briefly imprisoned for debt and died in poverty at the age of thirty-six
Ellis Waterhouse described Dobson as “the most distinguished purely British painter before Hogarth”, and in the view of Waldemar Januszczak he was “the first British born genius, the first truly dazzling English painter”
There are examples of Dobson’s work at the National Gallery, the National Gallery of Scotland, Tate Britain, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Maritime Museum, Queen’s House in Greenwich, the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull, the Courtauld Institute of Art, the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London, in several English country houses, and at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery in New Zealand
There are examples of Dobson’s work at: The Royal Collection, Birmingham, Dunedin (New Zealand), Edinburgh, Hull, Liverpool, London (Tate British, National Portrait Gallery and Courtauld Art Institute), Yale and other country houses English The most complete study of Dobson and his work is William Dobson, 1611-1646, a catalog for an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery written in 1983 by M Rogers
Woman of the artist (1635-40), oil on canvas, 61×45’7 cm., Tate Gallery, London.
Portrait of Abraham van der Doort (About 1640) oil on canvas, 45×38 cm., Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.
Two Men (1640-5) oil on canvas, 110’2×118’6 cm., Courtauld Art Institute.
Charles II with a page (Sobre 1642) oil on canvas, 180×153’5 cm., National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh.
Inigo Jones (About 1642) oil on canvas, 36’9×30’5 cm., National Maritime Museum, London.
Sir Thomas Aylesbury (About 1642) oil on canvas, 125’5×99 cm., National Portrait Gallery, London.
Self-portrait (1642-6) oil on canvas, 72×59’6 cm., National Portrait Gallery, London.
Charles I (1642-6) oil on canvas, 76’7×64’3 cm., Royal Collection, London.
Richard Neville (1643) oil on canvas, 114×91’4 cm., National Portrait Gallery, London.
Self-portrait with Sir Charles Cotterell and Sir Balthasar Gerbier (about 1643), canvas, 8 × 125 cm., Albury.
Charles II as the Prince of Wales (over 1643), canvas, 151 x 128 cm., Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh.
Portrait of a Realist (On 1643) oil on canvas, 96’5×77’5 cm., National Maritime Museum, London.
Sir Charles Lucas (1643-44), canvas, 114 × 91 cm., House of Audley End (Essex).
Endymion Porter (1643 – 5), canvas, 150 × 127 cm., Tate Gallery, London.
Charles II (1644) oil on canvas, 122’5 x 99’3 cm., Royal Collection, London.
Colonel Russell with Prince Rupert and Colonel Murray (1644), canvas, 151 × 199 cm., Ombersley Court of Justice (Worcester County).
Henry Mordaunt, 2nd Earl of Peterborough (1644), screen, 246 × 163 cm., Drayton House (Northampton County).
James Graham (About 1644) oil on canvas, 76’6×58’4 cm., National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh.
James Compton, 3rd Earl of Northampton, (1644-5), canvas, 226 × 147 cm., Ashby Castle (Northampton County).
Jaime II (1644-5) oil on canvas, 95’5 x80’4 cm., Royal Collection, London.
Nicholas Oudart (About 1645) oil on canvas, 85’7×68’5 cm., National Portrait Gallery, London.
Portrait of an officer (About 1645) oil on canvas, 102’2×76’2 cm., Tate Gallery, London.
Sir Edward Nicholas’ (About 1645) oil on canvas, 85’7×68’5 cm., National Portrait Gallery, London.
Richard Lovelace ‘(1645-6) oil on canvas, Dulwich Pictorial Gallery, London.
Robert Buxton oil on canvas, 89’5×77’2 cm., Hall of Stranger.