Due to his talent he was considered to be the natural successor to the court painter, Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641). Surprisingly little is known about Dobson, however he was apprenticed to William Peake (c.1580–1639), principally a print seller rather than an artist, and is said to have worked with the artist Frans Cleyn (died 1658). Dobson’s short career (he died aged 34) coincided with the English Civil War (1642–1651), the conflict between the supporters of Charles I, or Royalists, and those who supported the rule of Parliament, the Parliamentarians. Dobson followed the exiled court of Charles I from London to Oxford. His sitters there included displaced Royalist supporters and officers. They, like Dobson himself, had sought safety in the city that had become the Royalist headquarters. In his portraits the context of war is evident. Officers wear breastplate armour and the distinctive Royalist crimson sash, while symbolic sculpture alludes to individual interests and to the troubled times.
This display also examines Dobson’s painting technique, from his early works made in London in the 1630s, to those painted in Oxford from 1643 to 1646. Did wartime Oxford, and the presumed difficulties in accessing and paying for painting materials, have a physical effect on Dobson’s portraits and his working methods? From the evidence gathered so far, instead of a progression from elaborately handled early works to an abbreviated technique in later ones, the situation seems more mixed.
Curated by Tabitha Barber, Tim Batchelor and Rica Jones