The marvellous peturoi. Nature’s well-stocked fishing pools of Buin
My daily delight: The neighbours from another world

Painter in Paradise – William Dobell in New Guinea

William Dobell sketching an unidentified man, 1949 (National Library of Australia)S H ERVIN GALLERY

IN May 1949, the renowned Australian painter William Dobell (1899–1970), in an endeavour to escape publicity after his 1948 Archibald Prize win, left Australia with his friend, writer Colin Simpson, in the company of philanthropist and trustee of Taronga Park Zoo, Sir Edward Hallstrom.

He was one of 27 guests flown by Hallstrom from Australia to Port Moresby and then on to Hallstrom’s experimental sheep station and bird of paradise sanctuary at Nondugl in the Highlands.

It was the first time Dobell had ever stepped inside an aircraft and, despite initial nerves, he was captivated by everything he saw.

For the following three months he drew and painted watercolours of the landscape, village life and the highlanders themselves, adorned with magnificent bird of paradise plumes, intricately constructed jewellery and elaborately painted faces and bodies.

William Dobell, Boy with a bow (Newcastle Art Gallery Collection, 1953)Returning to Sydney, Dobell was haunted by his experience in the Highlands and in April 1950, sponsored by Qantas Empire Airlines, he returned to the area, this time extending his travels to include a lengthy period in Port Moresby and a boat journey along the Sepik River.

On this second expedition, Dobell not only took his sketchbooks but a camera and recorded on black-and-white film daily life in Mount Hagen and Nondugl as well as rare images of the Upper Sepik region.

These photographs and sketches formed the basis of many paintings he was to produce in the following two decades.

“The natives up there in the Wahgi Valley are immensely beautiful, physically superb, and with a sense of human dignity which sophisticated civilisation seems to have forgotten,” Dobell wrote in 1949.

“Combine this with marvellous light and colour, and primitive vigour, and you have a completely satisfying artistic experience. This attitude of simple dignity is what I’ll try to get. Whether I succeed or not is another matter”.

The current Sydney exhibition of Nolan’s New Guinea work was conceived by Natalie Wilson, Curator of Australian & Pacific Art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

It is the first exhibition to focus solely on this aspect of one of Australia’s most recognised and well-loved painters, renowned for his sensitive portraits of Australian cultural icons, as well as internationally respected dignitaries and political figures.

Through an extraordinary group of around 100 drawings, paintings, watercolours and photographs, the exhibition explores Dobell’s engagement with the landscapes and people he encountered on his New Guinea journeys.

Painter in Paradise: William Dobell in New Guinea, S.H. Ervin Gallery, Sydney, 29 May – 12 July

You can link to an exhibition page here



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Natalie Wilson

Dear Peter - Thank you so very much for your kind comments. It was such a lovely opening and wonderful to meet you and Rose and Mana Kuman. I'm looking forward to your visit to Sydney.

I'm pleased to let readers of PNG Attitude know that the exhibition will tour to Queensland venues from March 2016: QUT Art Museum in Brisbane, and then up to Cairns Regional Gallery, so do make sure you get along to see it and I'll hope to meet you all there!

Natalie is Curator of Australian & Pacific Art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. She is Curator of 'Painter in paradise: William Dobell in New Guinea', SH Ervin Gallery (2015-16) and Curator of 'Plumes and pearlshells: art of the New Guinea highlands', AGNSW (2014) - KJ

Peter Kranz

The 'Painter in Paradise' exhibition has now moved to the Lake Macquarie Art Gallery at Woodrising north of Toronto. It is fantastic and well worth attending.

Natalie Wilson has done a brilliant job in bringing this exhibition together and bringing it to Lake Macquarie, which was of course Dobell's home as a self-confessed 'Wangi boy'.

As well as Dobell's masterpieces it includes many sketches, photographs and archival film from his 1949 and 1950 visits to the Highlands, as well as carvings and items of bilas.

There are wonderful Dobell oils of rainstorms over the Wahgi, Mt Wilhelm, Sepik fishermen, Lakatois in Fairfax harbour, beautiful Highlands women, and the Kanana ceremony (know as Karim Lek in Pisin.)

And not least were the great anecdotes by some of the local people who knew Dobell and his contemporaries. And some Margaret Olley works as well! (I never knew she visited PNG and painted Simbu women).

I was proud to accompany Mana Kuman and Rose and introduced them to Natalie as "Wahgi valley girls" who were very familiar with Nondugl where Dobell did some of his best work.

See it if you can. Natalie has done PNG and Dobell proud.
Wagai wei!

Francis Nii

A great man who kept the past of PNG alive through his artistic feat for future generations to marvel.Salute.

Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin

The men and women in traditional regalia look more astute and healthy than the current generation with western rags roaming around in our villages and towns, looking as if just released from an underground prison, .

Folks, are we heading in the right direction with neo-liberal globalization?

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)