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National Portrait Gallery marks the 400th anniversary of the birth of the artist William Dobson
Richard Neville by William Dobson, circa 1643. ©National Portrait Gallery, London.

LONDON.- A new display at the a National Portrait Gallery marks the 400th anniversary of the birth of the artist William Dobson. Considered the most important British painter of his generation, Dobson was a hugely significant witness to the English Civil War but his career was tragically short. This display is part of a wider celebration of Dobson’ s anniversary year which sees the launch of a special Dobson Art Trail created by The Sunday Times art critic Waldemar Januszczak.

The four oil portraits included in the display are of Richard Neville (c 1643), Sir Edward Nicholas (c. 1945), probably Sir Thomas Aylesbury, Bt (c 1642) and probably Nicholas Oudart (c. 1645). These will be shown alongside a selection of prints from the Gallery’s archive, exploring Dobson’s relationship with the printmaker William Faithorne.

Born in London in 1611, Dobson was described by the antiquary John Aubrey as ‘the most excellent painter that England hath yet bred’. Little is known about his early life but he is thought to be the son of a painter and studied under the print publisher William Peake and decorative artist, Francis Cleyn. He was appointed King Charles I’s Principal Painter following the death of Sir Anthony van Dyck in 1641. At the outbreak of the English Civil War he joined the king at Oxford and painted many of the leading Royalists, capturing the drama and anxiety of the time. His surviving portraits are remarkable for their technical brilliance, directness and strong sense of character. He returned to London after the king was defeated by parliament and was imprisoned for debt. He died in poverty at the age of thirty-five and was buried in St Martin-in-the-Fields church.

William Dobson 1611-46 is part of a wider celebration of Dobson’s anniversary year and two portraits have been selected for inclusion in the Dobson Art Trail with captions written by the art critic Waldemar Januszczak. Further information about the Dobson Art Trail can be found at from 12 September, including a map locating his works currently available for public view. A new film about the artist by Waldemar Januszczak, The Lost Genius of British Art: William Dobson will be broadcast on BBC4 on 22 September 2011.

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