Antonio Dattilo Rubbo

From: . Accesssed 26 April 2012

Rubbo, Antonio Salvatore Dattilo (1870–1955)
by Carmel Oakley

Antonio Salvatore Dattilo Rubbo (1870-1955), artist, was born on 21 June 1870 at Naples, Italy, son of Luigi Raffaele Dattilo, grain merchant, and Raffaela Rubbo. Dattilo died during his son's infancy: until he was 8 Antonio was looked after by a great-aunt at Pontecorvo. At 14 he won a prize for drawing, which enabled him to study draughtsmanship in Rome where he gained a certificate in 1888. While serving as a conscript in the Italian army for the next four years, he managed to visit the major Italian galleries and paint portraits of his fellow-soldiers. From 1893 at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Naples, he had a classical training based on drawing the antique, and also studied under Domenico Morelli and Filippo Palizzi, leaders of the liberal Neapolitan art movement. Morelli's eclecticism and method of sketching in the streets of Naples were an enduring influence on Rubbo's work. In 1896 he was awarded the academy's diploma of professor of drawing in public institutions.

Next year, after briefly trying to interest himself in the family business, Rubbo left for Sydney, and upon disembarking on 13 November was befriended by Eirene Mort. In return for accommodation and English lessons with the Mort family, Rubbo conducted an art class at their Strathfield home. In 1898 he began a studio class in Hunter Street, moving next year to Rowe Street, where he established his atelier. He offered life classes and his school became the main rival to Julian Ashton's Sydney Art School. From 1898 Rubbo taught at well-known Sydney schools—St Joseph's College, Kambala and Scots College and later at Kincoppal and Rose Bay Sacred Heart convents, Newington College and Homebush Grammar School. He was a council-member of the (Royal) Art Society of New South Wales from 1900 and from 1907 to 1934 taught at its school, where he became the longest-serving and most popular instructor. Throughout his long teaching career he vigorously campaigned for the inclusion of art (and a more professional approach to its teaching) in the school systems.

The purchase in 1899 by the National Art Gallery of New South Wales of 'The Veteran'—an individualized portrait of an old soldier in the style of nineteenth-century Neapolitan naturalism—had enabled Rubbo to set up his studio flat in Rowe Street, which was near the Bulletin office and a meeting place for writers and artists; he quickly became a popular member of Sydney's Bohemian community and its clubs. That year G. Nerli used him as the model for his painting, 'Bohème'. Rubbo was naturalized in 1903, styling his surname Dattilo-Rubbo. On 10 December next year at Paddington he married a former student, Mildred Russell Jobson, who bore him two sons.

In 1906 Rubbo made his only return visit to Europe, visiting galleries, exhibitions and art schools in England, France and Italy. Back in Sydney his classes, while retaining their basic academic approach, became noted for their openness to modern ideas. The return from Europe in 1913 of his student Norah Simpson, with first-hand experience of modernist ideas, further strengthened this development. As a result the first modern paintings in Australia emerged from Rubbo's classes, notably those of Grace Cossington Smith, Roland Wakelin and Roi de Maistre. Rubbo's own work was much less affected by modernism. An eclectic, who selected both stylistic and thematic elements from the work of the nineteenth-century Realists, Naturalists, Impressionists and, occasionally, Post-Impressionists, he found greatest critical acceptance for his genre paintings, which frequently depicted destitute old men. His most experimental works are his landscapes and figure-in-landscape paintings (1910-30). With their high colour key and broken-brush technique they are more akin to the work of the French Impressionists than to their Australian equivalents. As he grew older Rubbo returned to a more academic approach, and even publicly condemned the modern art he had earlier encouraged.

Moving his family to Manly in 1916, Rubbo was appointed to the War Memorials Advisory Board in 1919. In 1924 he transferred his atelier to larger, more modern premises in Bligh Street and started the Atelier Club. That year he helped to found Manly Art Gallery and Historical Collection (to which he donated over one hundred of his own works) and the Dante Alighieri Art and Literary Society. He maintained his links with Italy and in 1932 was appointed cavaliere of the Order of the Crown of Italy. Two years later he left the Royal Art Society and joined the rival and more forward-looking Society of Artists (life-member, 1954).

From the mid-1930s Rubbo saw himself and his work passed over by critics and institutions, although he was commissioned in 1947 to paint the posthumous portrait of John Curtin for Parliament House, Canberra. In his later years he made sizeable donations of his work to galleries, institutions and appeals. In 1940, when Italy entered the war, he was arrested as a possibly subversive alien and briefly interned. Next year he handed over the management of his classes to Frances Ellis, a former student and teacher at the atelier.

Small in stature, with curly black hair and beautiful hands, 'Signor' Rubbo was remembered by the artist Margaret Coen: 'Darkly handsome, his brown eyes flashing, and sporting a black goatee beard, a long scarf flung carelessly round his neck, he always wore a dark green Borsalino hat pulled low to one side'. He had great wit and enormous vitality and was an uncompromising, yet fair, critic of his students' work.

Rubbo, who had suffered from angina for many years, died in his sleep at his Mosman home on 1 June 1955 and was cremated. He was survived by his elder son Sydney (1911-1969), professor of bacteriology at the University of Melbourne. Rubbo's portrait by Evelyn Chapman and a self-portrait are in the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Select Bibliography
■M. M. Pearson, The Tales of Rowe Street (Syd, 1947)
■M. Stewart, Autobiography of My Mother (Melb, 1985)
■Art and Architecture, July-Aug, 1905
■Red Funnel, 3, 1906
■Art and Australia, Mar 1967
■C. Oakley, A Neapolitan in Sydney: Antonio Dattilo Rubbo and His Art 1870-1955 (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Sydney, 1982)
■tapes of interviews with Sydney Rubbo, 1969 (Art Gallery of New South Wales Library)
■Rubbo papers (privately held).

Accessed 26/04/12
Curriculum Vitae Antonio Dattilo-Rubbo
Below is a brief overview of the milestones of Antonio Dattilo-Rubbo's life.

You will also find a summary of his exhibitions - Over the years he had 27 works selected for the Archibald, Sulman and Wynne Prizes. Included here as well is a list of public galleries and museums in Australia that hold his works.

An extract from an exhibition catalogue of 1943 shows Dattilo-Rubbo's generosity in donating works for important causes.

Dattilo-Rubbo c 1910

1870 Born June 22 in Naples, Italy, Antonio Salvatore Dattilo-Rubbo. Son of Luigi-Raffele and Raffaela Dattilo-Rubbo
1888 – 1889 Begins art studies at the Municipal School of Fine Arts in Rome. Gains Certificate
1889 – 1891 Completes military service
1897 September: arrives in Sydney
Opens art school for drawing and painting in Australian Chambers, Rowe Street
1898 – 1919 Part-time art master at St. Joseph’s College, Hunters Hill
1898 – 1937 Art master at Scots College
1900 Ad for his art school appears in the Art Society Catalogue with timetable
Elected member of the Council of the Art Society. Becomes instructor in painting at Art Society and holds position until 1928
1901 – 1902
Ad for art school appears in the Art Society Catalogue stating fees: £1.1.0 per quarter
1903 Obtains British citizenship
1904 December: Marries Mildred Jobson
1906 – 1907 Travels to London, Paris and Italy
1907 – 1909 Conducts weekly art lessons Cambridge School on Parramatta River, Hunters Hill. Florence Hooper, a former student, is principal
1907 – 1910
‘The Atelier’ Art Classes for Ladies and Gentlemen. Ad appears every year in the Royal Art Society Catalogue
1911 – 1915 Lives at North Sydney
1911 September 11: son Sydney Rubbo born
1912 Awarded James Fairfax Prize for Pencil Drawing
Challenges C.E.S. Tindall to a duel regarding the acceptance of ‘Down the Hill to Berry’s Bay’ by Roland Wakelin for the annual Royal Art Society exhibition
1916 Moves to Osborne Road, Manly
1917 Son Mark Anthony Rubbo born
1918 Moves to 144 Addison Road, Manly
1919 Member of the War Memorial Advisory Board
1919 Speaks at opening of exhibition of colour-music paintings by Roy de Maistre and Roland Wakelin at Gayfield Shaw Gallery
1922 Fellow of Royal Art Society, one of the first eight along with William Lister Lister, Charles Bryant, J.S. Watkins, Lawson Balfour, James R. Jackson, Sir John Langstaff and Margaret Preston
Member of the first Committee of Manly Art Gallery with Charles Bryant; is first to donate a painting to the collection Aboriginal Head
1924 Moves to studio in Hudson House, 15 Bligh Street. Ad in Royal Art Society catalogue
1926 – 1939 Conducts weekly art classes at Rose Bay Convent
1927 Moves from Manly to 45 Prince Albert Street, Mosman
1928 July 18: Presented with Official Royal Art Society Diploma
1932 Made Knight of the Order of the Crown of Italy, conferring the title of Cavaliere
1933 June 8: exhibition of students’ works
1933 September 1: Son Mark, aged 16, dies of meningitis
1934 Resigns from Royal Art Society and becomes member of the Society of Artists
1936 Builds a studio adjoining his home in Mosman
1939 Gives a collection of 100 paintings to Manly Art Gallery on the condition that room is built to house the works
1940 Interned for a short period on the outbreak of World War II, because of ‘suspicion of disloyalty, I believe, through my title, and then a donation to an Italian club of one of my works and a monetary contribution towards expenses for furnishing it’ ( from a letter to the Secretary of the Manly Art Gallery)
1941 Retires from Art School, hands over to Frances Ellis. Studio moves to 70 Pitt Street
1942 Makes application to serve as war artist
1943 Wife Mildred dies
1947 Commissioned to paint posthumous portrait of Prime Minister John Curtin for Kings Hall at Parliament House in Canberra
1954 Made Life Member of the Society of Artists
1955 Dies June 1

A very personal view of Antonio Dattilo Rubbo is recorded by his grandson, Mike Rubbo, in his blog of 10 March 2008 on

Antonio Dattilo Rubbo's work is represented in these public galleries and museums:

Manly Art Gallery & Museum, Manly, NSW, holds 130 works. See images of the works in The Collection

These galleries hold one or several works by Antonio Dattilo Rubbo:

Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane

Howard Hinton Collection, Armidale, NSW
University Art Museum, University of Queensland, Brisbane
Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, NSW
Ballarat Regional Art Gallery, VIC
Benalla Art Gallery, VIC
Albury Regional Gallery, NSW
Wollongong City Art Gallery, NSW
b.1870, d.1955
Place Of Birth


Works by this Artist