Lecture two—The Dobell Case

Selden Society - 2016 Lecture Series

Lecture two—Notable TrialsThe Dobell Case: Attorney-General v Trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW (1944) 62 WN (NSW) 212 was presented by Thomas Bradley QC on 21 April 2016.

One of the world’s leading art prizes, The Archibald Prize, has been the battleground for debates and disputes about the definition of portraiture since its inception in 1921. It was established in 1919, pursuant to the will of Mr J F Archibald (a former editor of The Bulletin). Its annual exhibitions at the Art Gallery of NSW have reflected the evolving tastes and trends of Australia’s visual arts culture and offered public exposure to new interpretations of the portraiture genre. The legal case brought against the 1943 Archibald Prize winner, William Dobell (then a relatively unknown artist), forms part of a long history of art-world litigation built around questions of taste and changing definitions of art itself. Dobell’s prize winning portrait used distortion and exaggeration to capture the essence and character of his friend and colleague Joshua Smith; the artist sought to create an image, not merely copy one. The final, conventionbreaking painting created huge public interest and stimulated debate about the definition of portraiture.

The resulting court case, brought by two disaffected Archibald Prize entrants against Dobell and the Gallery’s trustees, saw two of the greatest advocates of the day—Garfield Barwick KC (for the plaintiffs) and Frank Kitto KC (for the Art Gallery of NSW)—contest the differences between caricature and portraiture over a four-day trial. In the result, the decision of the trustees was upheld: Attorney-General v Trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW (1944) 62 WN (NSW) 212. However, the case took its toll on Dobell and the other participants in this extraordinary dispute.

About the Speaker

Vice-Patron and committee member of the Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art Foundation, Thomas Bradley QC, examines this fascinating historic case: an intersection of art, law and public opinion.

Thomas Bradley QC was called to the Bar in 2000 and took silk in 2013. His practice at North Quarter Lane Chambers, Brisbane, is predominantly in commercial disputes, with a particular focus on competition and regulatory matters. He also practises in employment matters, defamation and media law.

He is a member of the Competition and Consumer Committee of the Law Council of Australia Business Law Section, formerly serving as a Deputy Chair of the committee (2011–14). He was also formerly a member of the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (2009–11) and Commercial and Consumer Tribunal (2004–9).

Before coming to the Bar, he was a senior associate at Minter Ellison (1991–2000), working in the firm’s commercial litigation and corporate practices. He was a lecturer in Industrial Law at the University of Queensland (1993–96) and Queensland University of Technology (1992–94).

Thomas Bradley is a member of the Supreme Court Library Queensland’s History and Publications Committee. In 2015, he was appointed to the Council of the National Library of Australia.

Speakers notes

Download the paper from Lecture two—Thomas Bradley QC on The Dobell Case: Attorney-General v Trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW (1944) 62 WN (NSW) 212.

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Produced by Supreme Court Library Queensland.

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Related events:

Painter in Paradise: William Dobell in New Guinea QUT Art Museum. Until 1 May 2016.