Frank Dobson’s Landscape

Join us today for an in depth look at Frank Dobson’s landscape painting.

Frank Dobson (1886–1963) was a British sculptor, born in London, the son of an illustrator of the same name. From 1902 to 1904 he worked as an assistant to William Reynolds-Stephens. He then spent two years in Cornwall, earning his living with landscape watercolours, before winning a scholarship to Hospitalfield Art Institute, Arbroath, where he studied 1906–10.

After returning to London, he continued his studies at the City and Guilds School,Kennington, then again lived in Cornwall, where he shared a studio with Cedric Morris in Newlyn. His early work consisted mainly of paintings, the few surviving examples showing how impressed he was by Roger Fry’s Post-Impressionist exhibitions ( Stanhope Forbes, whom Dobson met in Newlyn, had been shocked by his modernism). He made his first carving in 1913, but his first one-man exhibition—at the Chenil Gallery, London, in 1914—consisted of paintings and drawings. After the First World War (when he served in France with the Artists’ Rifles), he turned increasingly to sculpture, and had his first one-man exhibition as a sculptor in 1920, at the Leicester Galleries, London.

During the 1920s and 1930s Dobson gained an outstanding reputation: in 1925 Roger Fry described his work as ‘true sculpture and pure sculpture … almost the first time that such a thing has been even attempted in England’. The monumental dignity of his work was in the tradition of Maillol, and like him Dobson found the female nude the most satisfactory subject for three-dimensional composition, as in Cornucopia (University of Hull, 1925–7), described by Clive Bell as ‘the finest piece of sculpture by an Englishman since—I don’t know when’. His work was more stylized than Maillol’s, however, and his sophisticated simplifications of form made him one of the pioneers of modern sculpture in Britain.

Dobson was also outstanding as a portrait sculptor, his best-known work in this field being the head of Sir Osbert Sitwell in polished brass (Tate Gallery, London, 1923). He worked in various other materials including bronze, terracotta, and stone, and he was prominent in the revival of direct carving. His craftsmanship in all these materials was superb and he played an important role as a liberal-minded and kind-hearted teacher at the Royal College of Art, where he was professor of sculpture from 1946 to 1953.

After World War II Dobson was appointed professor of Sculpture at the Royal College of Art and awarded the CBE.

Dobson is represented in many public galleries, including the Tate Gallery, London. There was an Arts Council memorial exhibition in 1966 and more recently there was a major retrospective at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, in 1994.

With the rise of a younger generation led by Henry Moore, however, Dobson’s prestige as an artist dropped; his work was regarded as dated, and the memorial exhibition organized by the Arts Council in 1966 was poorly received.

Since then his reputation has greatly revived and he has again been recognized as one of the outstanding figures in 20th-century British sculpture.

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