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Dobell and Anderson: Contrasting Lives

THE lives of William Dobell and John Anderson are about as different as any two lives could be. John Anderson was born in Stonehouse, a small weaving and mining town which lies south of Glasgow in Scotland. The date was 1893. His father was headmaster in a primary school, extremely radical in his attitudes; he gradually became not only a communist but an atheist, despite the fact that on becoming a headmaster, he had had to agree that he would not teach any opinions opposed to the Holy Scriptures or the Shorter Catechism. Further back in time, the family males were shepherds. For some odd reason, Anderson liked to think of himself as being of gypsy origin, at one stage pressing on me the fascinating gypsy novels of George Borrow. But although he was surrounded by weavers and miners, his family was wholly academic. He followed his brother by going from his father's school to a grammar school, to learn Latin and Greek, where he met a cultivated girl who, after years of wooing, would become his wife. Then Anderson spent an exceptional ten years in Glasgow University, where both his father and his brother had preceded him. He first took a science degree in mathematics and physics, then a politics, economics and philosophy degree, always with first-class honours. He was also at first a contributor to, and later the editor of, the student paper. In a typically mischievous manner he took the name of "Jude" since Thomas Hardy had aroused great hostility by his novel Jude the Obscure.

William Dobell was born on 24th September 1899, the last of six children. The Newcastle into which he was born was not in all respects unlike Anderson's Stonehouse. It was a town of miners and steel-workers, without the art gallery and university it now possesses. But it was a city in the making, becoming a considerable port, so there were jobs for craftsmen. Dobell's father was a bricklayer who later rose to becoming a plasterer. Quite unlike Anderson, Dobell was no scholar. Dictation and drawing, so he tells us, were his only school successes. But his drawing was of such a quality that it drew special attention to him. He was apprenticed to an architect. At the time, he tells us, that job satisfied him, although it was so mechanical. And there was, in the Technical College, a course in free-hand drawing, a night course, so he could reconcile attendance there with a variety of paid jobs. There were, however, scarcely any serious paintings to be seen in Newcastle - odd reproductions, perhaps, hung on walls. One might be inclined to say: "Well, he could have visited the Sydney Art Gallery." But a hundred miles on a steam-train which stopped everywhere was both time-consuming and, by his standards, very expensive.

Anderson's life was far remote from his home town. I doubt whether he ever returned to it. In contrast, Dobell eventually took over and gradually developed, with his father's help, a little miner's cottage at Wangi Wangi, on the shores of Lake Macquarie, within easy reach of Newcastle. There he was to spend much of his life, looked after by a sister until, in the last years of her life, she was the one who needed attention. It was there that he converted his sketches into paintings; it was there that he painted his very few landscapes. He was, in this respect, different from most other Australian painters, who worshipped the Australian interior. In a journal called the Radical the novelist Frank Clune wrote of Dobell after his


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death that, "He always retained part of his working-class background." This is in spite of the fact that Dobell had in his later years considerable contacts with those people of whom he had earlier said: "I rather hate important people." What Clune said of Dobell might also be said of two painters Dobell admired - Rembrandt and Hogarth.

Anderson was always a very conscientious teacher, not only in his taking care with his lectures, but in his careful comments on his students' written work and their examination papers. Added to this, once he went to Sydney, was his participation in two student organisations: the Literary Society and the Freethought Society. That he wrote no books at all is not surprising. Why did Anderson leave his lectureship in Edinburgh where he was close to scholars he greatly admired and taught us to admire? He could certainly have retained his Edinburgh post, but professorships were not easy to obtain. His brother William had left for New Zealand to be a professor of philosophy, and may have praised the Antipodes. His mother claimed that John always copied his brother. But politics played a part as they never did for Dobell. Anderson found his colleagues boringly conservative, completely hostile to the great strike of 1926, when unionists marched through the streets of Edinburgh. Why was he appointed to Sydney, as many of his colleagues there would later prefer not to have happened? His record was impressive and, to a striking degree, the Sydney professors were of Scottish origin.

THE CASE OF DOBELL was very different from that of Anderson. He had much more freedom to create than Anderson had. To be sure, he was an employee for the first years of his working life. That period culminated in the factory of a large supplier of building needs, especially metal ceilings, Wunderlich, governed by a man of that name, born in St Petersburg, who played a large part in the development of music in Sydney. He saw that Dobell was a more than ordinary painter and had him illustrating advertisements as well as simply drawing designs for ceilings and the like. Perhaps he suggested to Dobell that he should become an evening student of what was then called the Sydney School of Art, later the Julian Ashton School. There Dobell felt the influence of the energetic George Lambert, himself a portrait painter and a champion of youth. Dobell thought that he might become a cartoonist but decided to become a portraitist (even if there is a touch of cartoon in some of his paintings). He was twenty-six years old when he went to art school. At that age, for all his lengthy period as a student, John Anderson had won his first fixed position as a permanent lecturer in Edinburgh.

Dobell valued the time he spent at the art school, but he was desperately anxious to see the paintings that he had read or heard so much about. The government had realised that painters needed this experience, and had set up what was called a "Society of Artists Travelling Scholarships". It was supposed to last for two years at the rate of £250 a year, when the scholar was supposed to return to Australia; in fact Dobell stayed abroad for ten years. He had managed to save, as a worker, £1000, and Wanderlich gave him a farewell gift of £50. At a time when a young university teacher was paid only something of the order of £180 a year, it looked like quite a good starting point.

Dobell was thirty years old when he set out for London. He arrived at Tilbury docks in autumn 1929. On his way by train to Liverpool station (so Brian Adams in his book Portait of an Artist tells us - I wonder, as I often do, what Adams' evidence is), Dobell bought a paper to see if lodgings were advertised, saw nothing of that sort, crumpled up the paper and threw it on to the floor without reading about the tariff disputes between England and Australia. Whether or not this account is true, it is a suitable symbol.

He had great difficulties, like many another, in getting London accommodation, especially when his funds gradually diminished. He had to shift around. There is a story that he eventually shared a one-bedroom apartment with a professional thief who slept in the daytime, leaving the bed open to him at night. And it is true that his interests were in persons and scenes, not in disputes about political or economic issues of a general kind, certainly not the philosophical issues which were Anderson's central concerns.

No historian of art would say that England when Dobell went there was the home of world-famous painters, although I had a fondness for the peacetime paintings of Paul Nash. Nash was a product of the Slade School, which became Dobell's school. The school was conservative in its outlook but it introduced him to some of England's leading portraitists. One of them, Phillip Steer, had studied in France and was for a time influenced by Impressionism. But when he returned to England, and more particularly to the Slade School, he reverted to the classical English styles of Gainsborough and the like. He was, it would seem, a friendly person. But, as a result of eye troubles, he left the school just a year after Dobell arrived. His fellow professor, Henry Tonks, who detested any form of modernism, was a considerably less friendly and less capable painter. But he, too, left in 1930.

Of other English portrait painters, Dobell was helped by Sir William Orpen, who was in those days the


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most famous English portraitist, having a role very like Dobell's in the later years of his life in Sydney, the artist sought out by the rich who wanted a portrait. Orpen's style was, however, very conventional. The only works of his which have retained any artistic interest are self-portraits which have a certain degree of irony in them. Augustus John is the British artist with whom Dobell is more often compared, although certainly not in John's woman-chaser lifestyle. Like Anderson, John was interested in gypsies, going so far as for a time living amongst them. Like Dobell, he came to be well-known by the general public and there was an exhibition, like this one, of his works. I do not know whether Dobell ever met him. Dobell returned to Australia in 1938 and missed out on John's principal exhibitions. But he could well have learnt from him, as John's paintings were often on show in the Tate Gallery.

THE British galleries were of great interest to Dobell. He was fascinated by the Spanish paintings in the National Gallery. The work of such painters as El Greco and Goya, the Italian Tintoretto, Rembrandt and other Dutch painters he recognised to have influenced him. He was lucky to be in England during a big French exhibition at the Tate Gallery. But he still wanted to see the great painters in their home territory, especially the Dutch painters he had admired in the National Gallery. He won a prize, a "Society of Artists Travelling Scholarship" of £50, with a painting of a nude figure. In this case it was of a woman, in a relatively classical style, whereas the nude which won him the Sydney prize was of a twisted middle-aged man. It is rather odd that he won two prizes with a nude, as he did not normally paint nudes. The British nude shows signs that his pictorial skill had improved.

The work which particularly interested the British was a half-nude of the painter John Passmore (not the philosopher John Passmore) with whom at one time Dobell shared a room. What made it exciting to Dobell was that this painting of Passmore, called Boy at the Basin, was hung at eye level, the preferred place, in what is called the "Gem Room" of the Royal Academy Exhibition of 1933. It is at once simple in topic and well organised in a Dutch house-room painting style. It is not, of course, what we think of as a portrait, and in fact most of his London paintings were not portraits. He painted the great London parks, which he rightly saw as gathering places, and he could, at one stage, look out of his window and paint the various kinds of workmen busy at their work. There is one exceptionally dramatic painting, based on a personal experience. The husband of his landlady had died. Dobell had little experience of death, but he helped her carry the body to lay it on the bed, where it would later be seen by a gathering of relatives. His painting displays the body on the bed and the wife with her back turned to it, combing her hair. This painting was the source of Patrick White's play, The Ham Funeral.

Two portraits, however, especially deserve attention. One, called The Cypriot, James Gleeson chose for the cover of his biography, William Dobell. Some say the subject was a waiter, who became a friend, in a Greek restaurant where Dobell regularly ate; some say he was a paid model. Perhaps both are right. The painting sets the style for many other later portraits, including the Anderson portrait. The subject sits in a chair with arms bent, with the hands very prominent. The other notable portrait is of a face seen in the street. It was entitled Mrs South Kensington. Living for a time in nearby Bayswater and enjoying the Kensington Gardens, he could well have come across the not rare snobbish inhabitants of South Kensington. With his fondness for workers, he displays in this painting a degree of satire not usually so virulent in his work.

Dobell finally got to the mainland of Europe, at first for a year in The Hague, as the guest of a fellow student at the Slade, who purported to be a cousin of Van Gogh. The Hague itself is rich in art galleries but Dobell also went to Amsterdam, where Van Gogh was more richly on display. But he had also learnt in the British National Gallery, as I have said, to worship Rembrandt. "Paradoxically," a critic writes of Rembrandt, "it was always by way of the commonplace that he attained the sublime" - and that fits the London Dobell. He also went to Bruges, which he loved, and Paris, which he did not. He felt that he had nothing more to learn at the Slade. To his natural pleasure he was invited to become a member by two groups of painters, the London Group and the New English Art Club. Both of them exhibited Dobell paintings in their regular displays, choosing Maid at the Window and Boy at the Basin.

But Dobell could not attract a considerable audience at an exhibition consisting solely of his works. What English gallery-goers wanted to see paintings of dirt-carts? I do not know of any other painter who so often


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depicted workers at their job. Dobell could not sell his paintings and had to make his living by a variety of miscellaneous tasks, such as designing Sunday-school cards and designs for fairs, as well as a tourist poster for "South African Gazelles" and "White Bearded Gnus", journal illustrations, a serial. He even acted in films as a crowd member. Perhaps the lack of work is why in 1938 he returned to Australia or perhaps it was because for once he paid attention to newspapers and decided that war was imminent.

WHAT was Anderson doing in the ten years in which Dobell had been abroad? The central thing was his breaking with the Australian Communist Party, to which he had at first acted as a theoretical adviser. He soon found, by having one of his articles rejected, an article defending spontaneity which he offered to the Proletariat of August 1932, that their communist attitudes were authoritarian, by no means representing the free inquiry which was fundamental to his attitudes. Looking more closely at the Soviet Union, he gradually saw it in the same light, although it was not until after the notorious trials of the dissenters in the 1930s that he lost all faith in the Soviet Union - the first of his great disillusionments. He was for a time a follower of Trotsky and acted as an adviser to the Trotskyite trade union leaders. But in them, too, he lost faith, seeing that Trotskyites, too, wanted to rule absolutely, not permitting criticism. That was disillusionment number two. For a time he still remained faithful to Marxism, arguing that Lenin, Stalin and the like had misread Marx. But when he came to write articles on Marxist philosophy, even that faith faded out - disillusionment number three. There were some doctrines, however, to which he remained faithful. For the most part he gave expression to them in the two student societies which he helped to shape - the Freethought Society and the Literary Society. The Literary Society had originally been set up to encourage and give an audience to young writers. As such, it had almost faded away. But it was transformed under Anderson's influence into a society devoted to literary theory and literary criticism. The university literary departments were at this time extremely conservative, normally not referring to any twentieth-century work. It was only against considerable resistance that an English course was devoted to Thomas Hardy, the last of whose novels had been published in the nineteenth century and whose poetry was actually an early-twentieth-century product. The situation in the French department was even more conservative. There was no Russian department. There was, therefore, plenty of room in the Literary Society for discussions of such authors as Anderson's favourite writer, James Joyce, even if Ulysses was forbidden entrance into Australia (a copy was circulated with a cover pretending that it was the Bible), and plenty of room for Russian literature, which Anderson greatly admired, and for such marginal writers as Peacock and Chesterton.

As for Anderson's aesthetics, this the society published as a pamphlet, Some Questions in Aesthetics (1932). In accordance with his general tendency, it is an application of his general philosophy to works of art, attacking what he regards as romanticism, and supporting classicism. "The thing that matters," he tells us, "is the work of art, not the artist." Written at a time when the English department placed great emphasis on biography, this did not increase his popularity with his colleagues. His ideals of objectivity and realism, his rejection of relativism, are all deployed in his attitudes to literature and painting, where Cézanne was his ideal. He demands that a work of art be objective, as he took his favourite works to be, as also he demands that critics should not gush about the effects of a work but should concentrate on its structure. His wife Jenny, who herself wrote a book on Shakespeare, tells us that at one time he received an offer from Arnold Bennett to go to London as a literary critic; but he preferred to continue with philosophy, without ever losing his enthusiasm for the arts, or such of them as satisfied his criteria.

But the arts were not the only thing outside philosophy in which he was interested. Many of his other interests in political and social theory found expression, and aroused much greater hostility, in what became the notorious Freethought Society. In July 1931, Anderson delivered his first presidential address to the society. It created an uproar. The leading doctrines of that society were that knowledge could be gained only by observation and experience, that knowledge should be sought in all areas as far as possible, and hence that there should not be the censorship which was prevalent at that time in Australia, whether on political or sexual grounds. In his speech he condemned such sayings as "Your King and Country need you", and went on particularly to condemn war memorials as fetishes which prevented critical thinking about the character and conditions of the 1914-18 war, and thus about war and social relationships in general. Naturally there was an uproar, especially from the Country Party. The Labor Premier, however, was the notorious Jack Lang, who quoted such sayings from Samuel Johnson as, "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel". Anderson had to undergo an inquisition by the university senate. But they accepted the principle of free speech, and all was more or less well. The first-year class was largely devoted to Socrates, as depicted in Plato's Apology, the rest to


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logic, and we began to think of Anderson as an Australian Socrates.

All this was happening while Dobell was in England, at a time when it took six weeks to send a letter from Australia to England, if you were lucky. And Dobell had an odd tendency not to open envelopes. So it is unlikely that he heard anything, or anything much, about the Anderson case. One does not know how far, if at all, he agreed with Anderson. My knowledge of Dobell does not extend to his religious or political views. But he probably heard of Anderson when he returned to Australia. And the two were to have something in common - the ability to respond to an inquisition, effectively, and without surrender.

WHEN DOBELL returned to Australia, there was income to be thought about. His family was always helpful, and for six months he stayed with his sister, but he finally found a room with a studio in Kings Cross. At that time it was still a centre of artistic and literary activity; it was ruined only when it became a centre for American soldiers bringing drugs, on leave from the Vietnam War. Not that it was a wholly innocent area. One of Dobell's Kings Cross paintings is Woman in a Hamburger. She does not appear to be a model of virtue. (No degree of research has enabled me to find out what a "Hamburger" means in this context.) He became a teacher of drawing at the Sydney Technical College. One of his first, and best, paintings in this period was The Strapper, a handsome professional model, depicted as holding in his hand a device for governing a horse. This tall figure was a favourite of Dobell. It is generally true that most of his paintings up to this point were of handsome boys and young men, not of good-looking girls and young women. Most of his female paintings, indeed, were of women one would certainly not call good-looking. The situation changed later as he began to know more elegant women, such as Lady David Jones. He was disappointed that none of the paintings he submitted won the Archibald Prize (until the notorious 1943 example) even though his reputation was greatly increasing.

Meanwhile, however, he had been called up for war duties, even if in the lightest possible way. He detested fighting and would very likely have been killed were he forced to fight. He had to give up his teaching to join the Civil Construction Corps, sometimes involved in creating camouflages, sceptical though he was of their effectiveness. The corps had to move all over the country - he particularly enjoyed Western Australia. But he was often in one of the Sydney gardens, and could go back at intervals to his flat and continue painting. A number of sketches came out of his wartime duties - the most famous, perhaps, being The Billy Boy. "Billy" here has the meaning it has in the phrase "boiling the billy". It was the "boy's" task to convey tea to the workers. He did so in an exceptionally leisurely way, perpetually giving vent in his Scottish-Irish way to his opinions. Dobell painted other, very different, scenes of men at work, something he was always pleased to observe. For the first time he joined a building union, and never gave it up. Newcastle-type workers were always to be important in Dobell's life and that comes out in many of his earlier paintings.

In Glasgow, Anderson had had some contact with workers, through the Settlement which, in its Sydney version, he was later to condemn. He was no snob. But workers came to be of interest to him only as members of a class, the class which, according to Marx, would finally give rise, by their rebellion, to a free society. Freedom was what Anderson cared about; workers were interesting only as a means to it. While Dobell drank in pubs with working-class friends, Anderson drank with students, teachers, or, at one stage in his life, Trotskyite union leaders. When Dobell died, his pub-friends pronounced themselves as being such - they were two miners, a power-house operator, two retired miners and a barman. At that time intellectuals were still very scarce in Newcastle, which was later to become a centre of Andersonianism, with his son Sandy a lecturer in philosophy at Newcastle University, as well as other pupils of Anderson.

How did Anderson stand in relation to the war? Betraying an unusual capacity to look ahead, the government recognised that the universities would be rushed by students after the war. They therefore exempted university staff from military service although many of them, myself included, took part in a good many activities designed to be helpful to soldiers. Anderson did not. He did not announce himself to be a pacifist, but he adopted, although only in private - I think this is the first time it has been made public - an attitude which was, I think, peculiar to him. He was so hostile to the Soviet Union, the cemetery of so many of his hopes, that he would have liked to see it collapse under the German attack. For the next quarter of a century, Anderson carried on with his normal


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work, still producing first-rate philosophers, five of them finding a place in the 1989-1990 International Who's Who, something few other Australian university teachers could equal. One of Anderson's pupils has been described by a German historian of philosophy as the most important philosopher of the century. Anderson continued to write and occasionally got into trouble.

AFTER several failures, Dobell was delighted to win the Archibald Prize in 1943 with a portrait of his fellow-painter Joshua Smith, who had shared accommodation with him and was to write a book about him. The painting was in what is called the Gothic style. In the painting Joshua is depicted as being taller than he really was with the help of a lengthened neck and legs and a general narrowing of the body. Two other painters who had hoped to win the Archibald Prize, as indeed they did on later occasions, challenged the award by the trustees. Their names were Mary Edwards and Joseph Wolinski, German in origin. I doubt whether these names will mean anything to my readers; they certainly meant nothing to me until recently. Their line of argument was that Dobell's work was not a portrait but a caricature.

Both Dobell and his critics felt it necessary to hire lawyers. The case, before the Equity Court, ran on for days. I shall not try to give a full account of what takes 133 pages in Brian Adams' book. A brief extract, however, can illustrate both what Dobell had to suffer and the courage of his responses. The questioner was a famous barrister, Sir Garfield Barwick.

Q: As he sat before you did he physically appear to your eyes as he appears now on that canvas?

A: On what occasion?

Q: On any occasion?

A: He sat many times.

Q: Did he on any time sitting before you appear to your eyes physically as he appears on that canvas now?

A: It is not necessary -

Q: I did not ask you that, I asked you did he?

A: You cannot answer a question like that yes or no, not on an artistic point of art.

Q: Leave the art out for the moment.

A: You cannot leave art out.

The debate, not unnaturally, invaded the university, where a young lecturer in philosophy was lecturing on the nature of definition and found in the argument about whether a particular work was a portrait or a caricature a splendid example of the use of definitions. But what was ever so much more surprising was the degree of general public interest, said to be the greatest ever, even when a spectacular murder was in court. Day after day it became all but impossible to get seats in the court. Much of the public comment was hostile. A caricature posing as a fraudulent advertisement displayed a skeleton-woman applying for a job as a model with Dobell. A woman said that "Mothers and children should not be allowed in the court room so long as the Dobell painting was on show." Dobell defended himself with brevity and skill, and with the help of lawyers won the case. Edwards maintained that she had brought the case forward only because she wanted to protect Australian art against such modem painters as Kokoschka. But there are plenty of other Gothic paintings from El Greco onwards - and earlier. In England the Gothic style was beginning to dominate sculpture.

Anderson was used to attacking and being attacked; controversy was his style. Dobell, in contrast, was terribly disturbed by the law case, although he had won it. He became ill with dermatitis, affecting his eyes as well as his whole skin. He hid in his country house under the care of his sister, removing himself even further from Sydney when he accepted an invitation from Sir Edward Hallstrom (merchant and philanthropist, with a special interest in the Sydney Zoo) to accompany him to New Guinea. A new world, far removed from Anderson's, was opening up before him. His triumph in the law case was interpreted as the victory of modernism over tradition. Dobell did not see it that way. He felt he was at his worst when he was at his most modern; he would have liked a critic's description of his work as "experimental traditionalism". But Sydney was beginning to worship modernity, as we can see from its architectural changes.

Dobell decided, however, that he had been too experimental and for a long time there were no more Gothic paintings. One might rather say that he reverted to a Romanesque style, with an emphasis on curves, whether on men or women. There are, however, two later exceptions: his portrait Dame Mary Gilmore (1957), and a somewhat mysterious painting entitled Lydia with Hair in Pins (1963). In the case of Dame Mary Gilmore, poet and social reformer, he explains what he is doing: "She hasn't a neck like that, but I wanted to get the way she sits and spouts poetry and looks dreamily into the distance and does this with her hands. That was what I wanted, that gesture, so I had to lengthen the neck to do it." Incidentally, he was celebrating for the Book Society her ninetieth birthday. There are few similar explanations of what he was trying to do - not simply to copy a body or a facial expression, as a photographer might do, but to capture what the person being painted characteristically displays. This can only adequately be done, as he always emphasised, with those for whom he has more than a momentary acquaintance. In one case he could not bring it off, in


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his eyes, except after eight sittings, to the puzzlement of his friends.

Dobell loved New Guinea, with its vegetation so omnipresent as compared with the Australian barrenness he detested. His Australian landscapes were the reverse extreme from the wilderness of Fred Williams. (Incidentally he became the first painter to win both the Archibald and the Wynn Landscape prizes in a single year.) He was fascinated, too, by the New Guinea peoples and their customs. He painted vigorously, making sketches he later checked by returning to New Guinea.

None of this was of any interest to Anderson; his world was the intellectual world, although he did gradually come to love the Kuringai National Park which lay relatively close to his home. He had originally spurned it as primitive. But New Guinea would have been much too much for him. Equally remote was the Sydney world of wealth and power which Dobell was now entering. To be painted by Dobell was the thing to do, if now very expensive. He still, however, won Archibald Prizes with paintings of people he knew well, including his surgeon and his painter friends. That fitted what he had earlier pronounced - that he would paint portraits only of people he knew well. He originally said that he needed to have known them for three months, later that he needed to have had a cup of tea with them on several occasions. That was not possible with the persons of wealth and power who now sought him out. Some critics say that his later work is inferior to his earlier work. If they are right, it may be because he often lacked that preliminary contact.

The case of Prime Minister Menzies will suffice to bring out the degree of his fame and the difficulties it brought with it. The American journal Time knew that a conference of four Pacific leaders was to take place. Wanting to print portraits of the four leading figures on its front page, it invited Dobell to make portraits of all four, offering to pay all the fares and expenses, in addition to a substantial fee, for the three non-Australian Pacific leaders. The Australian one was Menzies. All of this indicates that Dobell's American reputation was now considerable.

Menzies so hated his printed portrait that he refused to accept the original painting when Time offered it to him. This would be natural enough if the Newcastle journal, the Radical, was correct when it said of Dobell, "He was a kind person but his brush swept away pretension and portrayed the essence of the person being portrayed. If you have ever doubted it, study his Prime Minister Menzies." Dobell's old working friends went rather further. They said that if you looked hard at the portrait you would see that Menzies was essentially an enemy of the working class. (Remember that Dobell was a member of a union.) I happen to have talked with Menzies on a good many occasions and feel that the portrait shows no signs of his quick wit. It makes him, rather, look dull, which he was far from being. One critic, however, went even further. The Menzies portrait, he said, made him "a cross between an ogre, a standover man, and a bad-tempered koala".

A portrait is painted by a man or woman of a particular age, in a particular mood, and with more or less previous acquaintance with the subject. The person painted, too, is of a certain age, in a particular mood, and has more or less sympathy with the painter. The same might be said of a photographic portrait. But most people, if painted at all, are painted only once in their lifetime, whereas they are normally photographed at dif- ferent stages of their life and in a variety of moods. If I were to be asked what Anderson looked like I should refer the questioner to the biography of Anderson by Brian Kennedy called A Passion to Oppose, with photographs of him over his lifetime.

TO turn now, at long last, to Dobell's Portrait of Professor John Anderson. It was painted at a time when Anderson had ceased to be a communist. As time went on, he interested himself in a number of Continental thinkers, especially Sorel, but also Vico and Croce. He gave up his belief that the working class contained productive forces the release of which would transpose society into a better world for all, free and creative. In 1943 he wrote an article on Hilaire Belloc's The Servile State, a work which had attracted his attention due to Belloc's view that workers might be led to sacrifice their rights for the sake of benefiting from welfare legislation. Anderson felt that this is what had happened in the Soviet Union and could easily happen in welfare states. Most of Anderson's students, old or new, were startled not only by his partial defence of Belloc - excluding his medievalism - but by his attitudes to such current affairs as the attempt to ban the Communist Party (1950–51) and to break with troops a communist-based coal strike. His political praise was for Menzies, a conservative, if certainly a witty and cultivated prime minister. His wife Jenny, who had earlier fostered communist groups for


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women, could only say that he had become Gilbert and Sullivan's "little Liberal", as she says he originally was. Many of his students, however, thought that he had become a "little Conservative".

Anderson's political history is one of disillusionment. But his basic principle remained: that liberty, whether liberty to think, to speak, to produce, was the central value. If, he argued, workers were prepared to be satisfied so long as they were the recipients of economic support by governments, whether communist or capitalist, which at the same time limited their freedoms, they would be dehumanised. His passionate hostility to a communist Soviet Union which had destroyed his youthful hopes sometimes led him into judgments during and after the Second World War which shocked his followers. His permanent doctrine, however, that liberty is always at risk, whether in universities or society at large, and that society is a field of co-operations and conflicts, is not to be despised. His influence stretched far beyond philosophers to anthropologists, who devoted the third special issue of The Australian Journal of Anthropology to "John Anderson and Social Inquiry" and to psychologists in so far as Anderson took a parallel view about mind: that it was a structure of emotions which contended and co-operated in giving rise to actions - Freud without the Ego. It was the Professor of Psychology at Sydney University, W. M. O'Neil, internationally well-known, who wrote the Anderson article in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Given these facts, it is not surprising that the philosopher Professor Alan Stout, the head of a department of Moral and Social Philosophy which had been set up as an alternative to Anderson, who by no means shared all of Anderson's views but nonetheless admired him, suggested that a fund should be set up which could gather enough money to pay Dobell to paint a portrait of Anderson. It is also not surprising that it was not until three years later that Dobell embarked upon the painting (Anderson was at the end of a queue). At last William Dobell met John Anderson. I have been told that they talked happily together in Dobell's Kings Cross studio. I do not know what the topics would have been. Perhaps the weather? I have emphasised how different they were, and there were many other differences which I have not had the space to emphasise. But Dobell was by now accustomed to painting people just for money. His previous principle, that he wanted earlier encounters with people before he painted them, still held in the case of many of his paintings - some of the best of them were of friends, now more often of women than of men. The male portraits were paid for on the basis of no more than one or two sittings, as in the case of Menzies. I do not know how much time he spent with Anderson.

I should make a confession here. I never met Dobell; I have to rely on his paintings and what other people have written about him. In contrast, from the time I went to the university in 1931, at the age of sixteen - studying philosophy only because I had a Teachers' College scholarship and the principal of the Teachers' College, a remarkable man of Scottish origin, whose son was later to teach philosophy at Oxford, insisted on our taking at least a year of philosophy - Anderson soon became, in my case, not only a teacher but a friend, and matters stayed that way until I left Sydney for other countries and later Canberra. My memory was of a lively person, who on Sunday liked to entertain us - the other part of the "us" was my wife-to-be - with vigorous singing of a range of composers, including Moussorgsky and Hebridean folk songs, by putting Duke Ellington on the gramophone or alternatively by playing tennis or rowing. So the Anderson I knew was the lively Anderson, many of whose photographs showed a vigorous middle-aged man, still optimistic about the future of the working classes and of society in general.

Of course, both men were in their sixties at the time of the portrait, and Anderson died just one year later as a result of too strenuously chopping wood. I am myself eighty-five years old and I can assure my readers that Age can carry Melancholy with it. But Anderson had two special reasons for Melancholia - his loss of faith in workers and his loss of faith in his students. That was a response to their lost faith in him, when, as an effect of his overwhelming hostility to communism, he was driven to adopt political attitudes to which students were deeply hostile. Or at least that is the story as told by former philosophy student Anne Coombs in a book appropriately named Sex and Anarchy. In 1956, a group of young people, many of them, if certainly not all, Anderson graduates, described themselves as Libertarians. They came together in Sydney pubs and still continued intellectual activities in the form of seminars, often making use of Andersonian logical concepts, but, as the title of Coombs' book makes plain, in an atmosphere of anarchy and so-called free love, both of them alien to Anderson's attitudes. He saw himself as having produced children who had gone totally astray.

Mv view that both the sketch and the painting display a melancholic person is by no means universally accepted. My own family, who knew him well, describe Dobell's painting as representing a thoughtful, not a melancholic, man. Gleeson says that it is the portrait of a wise man. But Anderson was not, in a major sense of the word, wise. If a wise man is a cautious man who does what he can to avoid trouble, Anderson was far from wise. His attack on war memorials makes that plain enough, and it is only one example. On a second


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sense of the word, in which it means a seer, who simply makes pronouncements, he was not wise. What he said was always supported by argument, or more often by a criticism of alternative views. I am prepared to accept the alternative view that the pictures are of a reflective man, if to be reflective is to be sad.

I have spoken in a plural way of the pictures, because the Canberra exhibition includes both the final version owned by Sydney, and the sketch owned by the ANU. Dobell's sketches are by no means necessarily inferior to his paintings. Robert Hughes wrote of Dobell indeed, that "Despite the time he spent on his canvases, Dobell is basically a painter of first impulse, so that the tiny oil sketches, which rapidly and cruelly fixed his first impulse, were often superior to the laboured, final results." It is hard to read the small sketches, particularly through glass. The copy of the sketch in the Australian National University art gallery catalogue lets us see it more clearly. And it does appear more active than the final painting; somewhat war-like.

Anderson probably knew of Dobell only through the legal case; he was not generally to be found in art galleries. On the other hand, I do not think Dobell would have read what Anderson had written, knowing him only through the public outcries he sometimes created. In the sketch, one hand is partly red and looks like a claw. Is that meant to suggest that he was a fighter as he certainly still could be, even in his later years? There is no such ferocity in the final version; Anderson's hand rests quietly on the arm of his chair. And the impression of rebuke has also disappeared. In both sketch and painting, Anderson looks sideways, as he had a habit of doing, but in the painting, quietly, whereas in the sketch his look is, in my judgment, sad.

Considered simply as paintings, both sketch and painting are striking works, with that balance of masses which Anderson made central in his aesthetics. Whether it is like the real Anderson is not, on his aesthetic view, of any consequence. But, as his wife had pointed out, if a work is presented as a portrait, likeness to the person is important even though Anderson argued, in the process influencing a considerable group of Sydney painters, that resemblance to what is being painted is of no importance in other kinds of painting. Whether the painting is of a melancholy Anderson or not, it is a splendid painting in its use of shape and colour. I had hoped that by exploring the Anderson Archives in Sydney University, I might have discovered what he thought about the painting. But there was nothing to be found there, not even with the industrious aid of the archivists. Looking at the primary material in the National Library, however, I found a number of the Sydney Morning Herald headed "Our Most Controversial Professor" which was largely devoted to John Anderson. It reports that the painting was made available for public inspection and that a journalist found Anderson looking at it. Anderson made a number of comments on the painting. Unfortunately, the journalist did not report what these comments were. But he did report that when he asked Anderson, "Do you want to go down to posterity in this painting?" he replied: "I'm not sure that I want to go down to posterity at all," something he would not have said earlier in his life. A sad finale.

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