1886 - 1963
Portrait of the Artist’s Assistant

Watercolour, ink and graphite on paper, signed lower right
Image size: 22 x 17 1/2 inches (56 x 44.5 cm)
Original frame

Inscribed on reverse ‘Frank Dobson’s Assistant – Celia Gills’


Please scroll down for more information and a framed image.

This painting was likely to have been created by the artist in the late 1930s just as his reputation began to soar. Although most well-known for his sculptures the artist began as a painter and continued this practice throughout his career. Similarly to his well-known sculptural works, we can see here Dobson’s unfaltering interest in the depiction of the female form.

This is a rare work as sadly few of Dobson’s paintings have survived. In 1995, the art critic Brian Sewell recalled the great loss of much of Frank Dobson s work after his death, “After his death, his widow asked me to help her clear the studio at Stamford Bridge, and I was appalled at the destruction that she wrought, smashing to smithereens small clay and terracotta models, tearing fine drawings in red and black chalk, hundreds of paintings, their fragments left in a dustbin’.



Frank Dobson

Dobson, Frank (1886–1963). 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.

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.