Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Dobson, William Charles Thomas
DOBSON, WILLIAM CHARLES THOMAS (1817–1898), painter, born at Hamburg in 1817, was the son of a merchant, John Dobson, who had married in Germany. After some losses in business the father came to England in 1826, and his children were educated in London. William, who showed a taste for drawing, studied from the antique in the British Museum, and was taught by Edward Opie, a nephew of John Opie [q.v.] In 1836 he entered the Royal Academy schools, where he made rapid progress, receiving special attention from (Sir) Charles Lock Eastlake [q.v.] Through Eastlake's influence Dobson obtained a position of some importance at the government school of design, then newly established in the old Royal Academy rooms at Somerset House. In 1843 he became head-master of the government school of design at Birmingham. Disliking the restrictions to which he was subjected, he resigned this post in 1845, and went to Italy. He had already exhibited several portraits, and 'The Hermit,' a subject from Parnell's poem, at the Royal Academy Exhibitions of 1842-1845. 'The Young Italian Goatherd,' painted in Italy, was at the exhibition of 1846. From Italy, where he spent most of his time at Rome, Dobson proceeded to Germany, where he stayed several years, and received a deep impression from the religious art of the 'Nazarene' school of that time. On returning to England he devoted himself to overcoming that indifference to religious painting, on the part of artists rather than of the public, which struck him as the great defect in the English art of the day. He painted numerous scriptural subjects, at first in oils, afterwards in water-colours also, which enjoyed a great vogue in their own day, and were popularised by engraving. The public liked their prettiness, simplicity, and refinement, and did not object to their sentimentality and want of realism. Some of his most ambitious pictures were 'Tobias and the Angel,' 1853; 'The Charity of Dorcas,' 1854; 'The Aims-Deeds of Dorcas,' 1855, which was bought by the Queen; 'The Prosperous Days of Job,' 1856 (the two last-named pictures were engraved by H. Bourne for the 'Art Journal'); 'The Child Jesus going to Nazareth with his Parents,' and 'Reading the Psalms,' 1857, both the property of the Baroness Burdett-Coutts; ' The Holy Innocents;' 'The Good Shepherd;' 'Abraham and Hagar;' and among secular subjects, 'The Picture Book' (International Exhibition, 1862); 'The Camellia,' 'The Dresden Flower-Girl,' 'Sappho,' 'Mignon,' and 'Ione.' Dobson was elected an associate of the Royal Academy on 31 Jan. 1860, and an academician in January 1872. He was a member of the Etching Club, founded in 1842. In 1870 he was elected an associate of the Royal Water-colour Society, of which he became a full member in 1875. As a water-colour painter his mission was to stand up for the old tradition of painting entirely in transparent washes, and to protest by quiet insistence against the corruption of the art, as he deemed it, which had been introduced by artists like Walker and George John Pinwell [q. v.], who used body-colour. Dobson remained a constant exhibitor almost to the last, both at the Royal Academy and at the Old Water-colour Society, contributing about a hundred and twenty pictures to the former and about sixty to the latter gallery. He became a retired academician in 1895, and died at Ventnor on 30 Jan. 1898.
[Mag. of Art, i. 183; Athenææum, 5 Feb. 1898; Daily Graphic, 3 Feb. 1898; Memoir by M. H. Spielmann, with portrait.]