W C T Dobson became well known for religious and secular genre scenes that often centred on childhood innocence and purity. Absorbing the influence of the Nazarene school of German painters, he provided a link to Continental art of the day. W C T Dobson was born in Hamburg on 8 December 1817, the son of John Dobson, an English merchant, who had married in Germany. As the result of financial concerns, the family moved to England in 1826, and Dobson was educated in London. He began his study of art by making drawings of antiquities at the British Museum, and received his earliest lessons from Edward Opie, a nephew of the portrait painter, John Opie. In 1836, he entered the Royal Academy Schools, where he studied, most notably, under Charles Lock Eastlake, who rarely took pupils.
In 1841, while living at 4 King’s Terrace, Bagnigge Wells Road (now King’s Cross Road), he was awarded a silver medal by the Society of Arts for his oil painting, The Prodigal Son. He began to exhibit regularly at the Royal Academy in 1842, following his move to 28 Exmouth Street, Spa Fields. Through the influence of Eastlake, Dobson gained a teaching position at the new Government School of Design at Somerset House.
In 1843, Dobson moved to Birmingham to take up the position of headmaster of its Government School of Design. He remained in the Midlands until 1846, the year that he married Caroline Parkes in Kings Norton (then in Worcestershire). They then travelled to Italy, and stayed mainly in Rome, where he furthered his studies. While there, he may have made the acquaintance of members of the Nazarene school of German religious painters. Certainly, he moved on to Germany, and absorbed the Nazarene influence so strongly that he then devoted himself to historical and, increasingly, Biblical subjects in both oil and watercolour. In 1847, he entered two historical cartoons, Lamentation and Boadicea, into the competition to produce murals for the new Houses of Parliament. The commission by Queen Victoria of The Almsdeeds of Dorcas (1855; Royal Collection) as a birthday present for Prince Albert confirmed his reputation as a painter of religious subjects. In both these and secular genre scenes, he focussed on idealised images of children.
While abroad, Dobson gave his address as 23 Newman Street, his London studio in the artists’ quarter north of Oxford Street. On his return, he settled at 5 Chalcot Villas, Haverstock Hill, with his growing family, which, by 1851, included two young sons, William and Henry. A third son, Edmund, who would become a painter of rustic genre, was born in 1857. Dobson also took on pupils, including, in about 1854, Edward Poynter, who would gain fame as a painter of neo-classical subjects. In the late 1850s, he returned to Germany, and resided in Dresden. (The present watercolour may relate to one of W C T Dobson’s most popular oils entitled The Dresden Flower Girl.) By 1861, and for at least 20 years from that date, he and his family lived at Eldon House, Rosslyn Park.
Dobson was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1860, and a full Academician in 1871. Working increasingly in pure watercolour as well as in oil, he was elected an Associate of the Society of Painters in Water Colours in 1870, and a full member in 1875, exhibiting about 60 works there in all. He was also a member of the Etching Club. In 1878, he was appointed a British juror for the Exposition Universelle, Paris, and was represented there by three watercolours.
Late in life, Dobson and his wife, moved to Gentilhurst, a house in the hamlet of Lickfold, northeast of Midhurst, Sussex. He exhibited the last of more than 100 works at the Royal Academy in 1894, and retired from that institution a year later. He died at Undercliff House, a boarding house at Ventnor on the Isle of Wight, on 30 January 1898.
His work is represented in the Royal Collection.
Further reading: ‘Douglas Fordham, Dobson, William Charles Thomas (1817–1898)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, Vol 16, Pages 369-370