William Dobson: The Cavalier Painter
Posted on 18th February 2022
Born in London in 1611, the son of a lawyer, William Dobson was apprenticed as a young man to the studio of Francis Cleyn, a German artist of renown then resident in the city, Other than this little is known of his early life, and certainly not how he acquired access to the Royal Collection which is known to have copied assiduously.
He was resident during the Civil War in the King’s capital of Oxford and remained so until its fall in June 1646. During this time, he painted the portraits of many of the leading Cavaliers among them Prince Rupert of the Rhine, his brother Prince Maurice, Sir Edward Hyde, Sir John Byron and Sir Charles Lucas. He also painted the King, Charles, Prince of Wales, and his younger brother James, Duke of York.
He was to all intents and purposes Court Artist, a role previously filled only by prominent men of foreign extraction such as Hans Holbein, Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony Van Dyck and following the interregnum Sir Peter Lely.
It was an elevation unexpected, and some now consider Dobson to be England’s first true artist of genius. He was certainly well considered at the time with his contemporary the antiquarian, essayist and philosopher John Aubrey referring to him as “the most excellent painter that England has yet bred.”
But England was a country at abeyance with itself, divided in argument and by ambition, passions that could only be reconciled by the making of war and the shedding of blood. Dobson’s weapon in this war would not be the sword but the brush, and so he painted the Royal Court in exile depicting its residents in all their pomp, majesty, and martial prowess.
Dobson would escape the fall of Oxford and flee to London but as a notorious Cavalier few were willing to commission him. Unable to support himself he borrowed heavily ending up in Debtors Prison where he died in October 1646, aged just 35.
Nicholas Lanier, William Dobson, and Sir Charles Cotterell
King Charles I
Charles, Prince of Wales and James, Duke of York
Sir John Byron
Sir Charles Lucas
Sir Thomas Aylesbury
Sir Edward Derring
Sir Richard Neville
A Naval Officer
James, Duke of York
Prince Rupert, Colonel William Murray, and the Honourable John Russell
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