Art on This Day
William Dobson (4 March 1611- 28 October 1646) was a portraitist and one of the first notable English painters. Following the death of Van Dyck in 1641, Dobson was appointed King Charles I’s Principal Painter. After the outbreak of civil war, Dobson joined the King in Oxford, where he painted a number of leading Royalists. Despite his artistic career being short, Dobson was once notably described as “the most excellent painter that England has yet bred”.
Dobson’s paintings of the Royalists is perhaps his best work, particularly his painting of the future Charles II when he was Prince of Wales. The Prince of Wales was only aged 12 at the time, and the painting seems to capture the young boy’s authority and ruthlessness. Around sixty of Dobson’s works still survive, mostly half-length portraits dated around 1642 or later. Dobson’s paintings are characterised by the impasto technique, which is where the paint is laid on the surface thickly. The use of this might suggest the scarcity of material in the wartime period. Despite the prestige of Dobson’s career, when Oxford fell to the Parliamentarians, Dobson returned to London. Without patronage, Dobson was briefly imprisoned for debt before dying from poverty aged 36.
A large selection of British Museums house Dobson’s works, including the National Gallery, London; the National Gallery of Scotland; the National Portrait Gallery, London, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London including various others. In 2011 the BBC focused on Dobson’s brief but extravagant career in their documentary The Lost Genius of British Art: William Dobson.
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