Dobell was in London throughout the grim years of the Great Depression. Pencil ever in his hand, everyday sights and experiences in that hard, difficult decade became the subject for art. He sketched streetscapes and parks, although his interest lay in people, ever trying to record gestures and mannerisms that conveyed character. He sifted through his many drawings of figures then refined some into small paintings.
A recurring concern was cockney life, showing a full spectrum of normal people who were struggling from mothers bearing babes to mature widows. This was a common theme among London figurative artists of the day. But unlike many around him, Dobell had no wish to press an embittered social message. He was not political. His concern was to show real people without glamorising or prettying them up, refusing to turn them into those caricatured cockneys of popular culture.
At the same time the artist applied techniques he had learned from close study of major works in galleries and museums. Never resorting to ‘fill’, in his best portraits each brushstroke has a pictorial value. Dobell was now using texture and density, that sensual meatiness of adeptly handled oil pigment – the paint skin.