'The most excellent painter that England hath yet bred'
October 1, 2011 4:13 AM   Subscribe

Britain's finest Baroque portraitist, on a par with Frans Hals, has been all but forgotten, but a new BBC documentary and associated website seek to address that. William Dobson, 1611-46, was painter to Charles I's court during the English Civil War, and the turmoil of the period meant that much of his biography and even the names of the subjects of his portraits were lost. But many of his portraits have survived, and they're astonishing.

The BBC Four documentary, by Dobson-enthusiast and Sunday Times art critic Waldemar Januszczak, is still available on BBC iPlayer (until the end of Monday), with a follow-up to come as part of the 400-year celebrations of Dobson's birth.
posted by rory (18 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Dudes looked good back then with their long flowing locks and their facial hair. And indeed, this Dobson fellow painted a mean portrait.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:35 AM on October 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

The BBC Four documentary, by Dobson-enthusiast and Sunday Times art critic Waldemar Januszczak, is still available on BBC iPlayer

"Currently BBC iPlayer TV programmes are available to play in the UK only, but all BBC iPlayer Radio programmes are available to you."

posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:37 AM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sorry, flapjax. The documentary is good, but much of the detail is captured in the website (a lot of its text appears to be drawn from Januszczak's script). And who knows where the video might turn up one day.
posted by rory at 4:48 AM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wow, those are great. Thanks for sharing this.
posted by zzazazz at 5:04 AM on October 1, 2011

An excellent portraitist, who certainly owes a lot to his predecessor, Anthony Van Dyck.
posted by Cuppatea at 6:37 AM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

These are wonderful portraits. I wish BBC iPlayer worked outside the U.K.
I bet Al Jazeera reaches way more people because of the on-line streaming, which works on mobile devices.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:42 AM on October 1, 2011

Al Jazeera is just a news channel. It doesn't have the rights problems that the BBC has with features, and conversely the BBC's news coverage is far more widely distributed.

Of course, almost all of the BBC's output appears as torrents shortly after transmission, so if you're prepared to disregard rights issues you can watch what you like, where you like.

Nobody will be harmed, no money will be lost, you will be better informed and the act has considerable cultural merit. In general, those who make documentaries like this are very much in favour of as wide a distribution of their work as possible.

However, it is against the law and according to the rights management industry, very destructive and against the interests of the documentary makers.

Only you can decide the true moral harm in the act.
posted by Devonian at 6:56 AM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

They are working on a commercial international BBC iPlayer. No word on when it comes to the US, and I suspect that relatively small BBC4 documentaries like this may not form part of it's programming. That's if BBC4 is even around at all.
posted by Magnakai at 6:59 AM on October 1, 2011

{We got access to the BBC iPad player a couple of days ago. It's nice as an app and has a few hrs of free stuff to get a taste, but it's about $9.50 pm --> this will get you access to "80 years of BBC archives" and you can save offline. I don't think you can watch live tv though.}

Nice post rory!
posted by peacay at 7:30 AM on October 1, 2011

These are fascinating - thanks!

on the BBC derail: we don't get BBC because we don't pay a liscense fee. Okay, neither do computer users in the UK, but all TV owners do whether they watch BBC or not.
posted by jb at 7:46 AM on October 1, 2011

Oooo, pretty. And a sweet use of a custom Google Maps interface. How'd they do that?
posted by steef at 7:58 AM on October 1, 2011

"Top!" the scout interrupted. "It's Dobson and Dobson at his top. What's Rumbin want? He's got to lay his hands on an 'Outstanding Master' for Hollins, hasn't he? Well, who's the greatest English master in the whole Seventeenth Century? William Dobson--with nobody near him. You might call Hilliard somebody; but Hilliard was only a miniature painter and so was Sam Cooper. Who's the first really important English painter that ever lived? William Dobson." He challenged Georgina lifelessly. "Deny it?"

"No, of course not."

Booth Tarkington, Rumbin Galleries, 1936
posted by timeo danaos at 8:02 AM on October 1, 2011

Great post. Thanks heaps

And if anyone is interested in the period I cannot recommend enough The Tyrannicide Brief by emmanent lawyer Geoffrey Robertson - telling the story of the layer who prosecuted Charles, and the price he eventually paid after the restoration.
posted by the noob at 8:24 AM on October 1, 2011

a custom Google Maps interface. How'd they do that?

ushahidi engine?
posted by infini at 9:04 AM on October 1, 2011

I knew exactly one thing about William Dobson but I see now that it was wrong. I always thought that it was nice that Charles II's father makes a cameo appearance in Dobson's portrait of Charles II but I see now that it was painted years before the decapitation of the elder Charles.
posted by Kattullus at 9:50 AM on October 1, 2011

I always thought....

I quite like that particular portrait for hints of later British absurdity. The dead head looks less dead than simply startled and slightly annoyed in an almost Monty Python fashion. "Just a scrape."

And Charles' own expression, it could as well be a slightly older and more fancily depicted Nigel Molesworth in a good mood.

Wonderful stuff, much obliged
posted by IndigoJones at 11:24 AM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Although I have to say, as lovely as Dobson's work is, he's not a patch on Hilliard or Oliver: miniaturists or no, they're both magnificently skilled portraitists.
posted by jrochest at 2:15 AM on October 2, 2011

So many of these portraits seem to present the same male face, over and over and over, as if Dobson basically could paint only one adult male face and just slightly modified it for each male portrait. The nose in particular seems to be the same nose endlessly repeated. This is my first encounter with Dobson's work. Otherwise, yes these are sumptuous indeed. His rendering of the region of the eyes is especially masterly.
posted by Galadhwen at 7:56 AM on October 2, 2011

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