Newcastle art dealer and gallery owner Mark Widdup has expressed regret that a chance for a Hunter public gallery to own an important William Dobell work has been missed.
Storm Approaching Wangi, an oil painting by Dobell, won the Wynne Prize in 1948.
Storm Approaching Wangi was on the auction block last month in Sydney at Sothebys final auction of the year and sold for $408,700, including the buyer’s premium payable to the auction house.
The work had not been on public exhibition since 1964, when it was part of a Dobell show at the Art Gallery of NSW. It was sold by Dobell in 1948 and acquired by another party in 1991, but not shown in public.
“It is an important landscape painting,” Widdup says, “and historically it became more significant as it was a painting that cemented the artist’s credibility once more.”
Widdup is referring to the controversy that surrounded Dobell when he won the 1943 Archibald with a portrait of artist Joshua Smith. Critics at the time alleged the painting was “a distorted and caricatured form” and therefore not a portrait.
According to Widdup, the Wangi painting “could be presumed one of the most important landscape works of the 20th century”.
Widdup, director of Cooks Hill Galleries, located on Bull Street almost across the street from the home that Dobell was born in on the corner of Bull and Corlette streets, expresses strong feeling about the ownership of the Wangi painting, which was purchased by a private party.
“In the back of my mind I cannot help but consider this is a painting that should have been secured for the city of Newcastle or Lake Macquarie,” he says. “As a substantial regional city, important artworks of this caliber with so much relevance should never escape. Surely an art fund for such offering of this importance needs to be established.”
Dobell also won the Archibald Prize (for the second time) in 1948, with a portrait of Margaret Olley. He won the Archibald again in 1959 with a portrait of Dr Edward MacMahon, who had successfully operated on him for cancer of the colon.
Dobell lived in Wangi Wangi for several years, becoming an integral part of the community. He died in 1970.