William Dobell in New Guinea: Painter in Paradise
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William Dobell in New Guinea: Painter in Paradise exhibition catalogue published by National Trust S.H. Ervin Gallery, Sydney to coincide with the exhibition 29 May - 12 July 2015. Includes bibliographical references
In May 1949, 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. One of 27 guests flown by Hallstrom from Australia to Port Moresby and on to his experimental sheep station and bird of paradise sanctuary at Nondugl in the central highlands of New Guinea, it was the first time Dobell had ever stepped inside an aircraft and despite initial nerves, the artist 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.
Returning to Sydney, Dobell was haunted by his experience in the highlands and in April 1950, sponsored by Qantas Empire Airlines, returned to the area, this time extending his travels to include an extended period in Port Moresby and a boat trip on 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 early 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.