Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Victor Ernest Cobb (1876–1945)

by R. E. Nott

This article was published:

Victor Ernest Cobb (1876-1945), artist, was born on 14 August 1876 at Footscray, Melbourne, eighth child of John Frederic Cobb, a surgeon from Sussex, England, and his wife Mary Anne Elizabeth, née King, of New Zealand. When Cobb was 6 the family moved to the Gippsland town of Warragul for six years, a change which gave him an early appreciation of the countryside. In 1891-93 Cobb attended Melbourne Church of England Grammar School where he learned basic drawing. He became a student of the National Gallery School under Lindsay Bernard Hall, worked in oils and watercolours and met Lionel Lindsay, John Shirlow and Ernest Moffitt, all with an interest in etching kindled by a recent exhibition of offprints by overseas masters. Enthusiastic, but lacking technical facilities and any relevant Australian tradition, Cobb and his friends were soon experimenting with hand-made tools and ingeniously contrived etching presses. Cobb produced his first print in the mid-1890s.

In 1899 he worked his passage as a ship's fireman to Durban, South Africa. He enlisted in the Johannesburg Mounted Rifles and fought with distinction through the South African War. After a brief visit to Melbourne he joined the Johannesburg Police Force and for a short time was a clerk in the Central South African railways. In 1905 he returned to Melbourne. With high hopes, but few opportunities for an artistic career, he filled several uncongenial occupations. While a mail order clerk in Cole's Book Arcade he met Alice Bassett, daughter of an engineer; they were married on 23 November 1908 at St Mary's Church of England, North Melbourne.

Cobb carried out various commissions, such as designing the ball cards and menus for the 1920 visit of the Prince of Wales to Adelaide and a series of etchings of Coombe Cottage for Dame Nellie Melba. In November 1925 he began work under (Sir) Colin Mackenzie as science artist to the National Museum of Australian Zoology. In the next five years, until the museum moved to Canberra to become the Institute of Anatomy, Cobb made hundreds of detailed anatomical drawings of Australian marsupials and reptiles, and skulls and skeletons of Aboriginals and notorious criminals such as Frederick Deeming and Ned Kelly—they are now in bound volumes at the institute. Subsequently he exhibited regularly, taught etching and lectured in country centres, to art societies, schools and universities.

Cobb's reputation rests on a large oeuvre of etchings, built up during his lifetime and depicting with meticulous accuracy the architectural splendour of Melbourne's colleges and churches, vistas of the city, the tea-tree patterned foreshore and the outer areas of bush and countryside. State galleries hold many examples of his work.

Cobb was tall, spare and blue-eyed. In his younger days he was a keen sportsman, a first-class rifle shot and a renowned boomerang and cricket ball thrower. He was a member of the Bread and Cheese Club, Twenty Melbourne Painters and the Victorian Artists' Society. A fine craftsman and master printer, he was generous to fellow artists with his technical knowledge and skill. A somewhat melancholy man in later life, he died of cancer at his home in East Brunswick on 2 December 1945, survived by his wife and one son. He was buried in Melbourne general cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Colquhoun (ed), The Year Book of Victorian Art 1922-23 (Melb, 1923)
  • R. H. Croll, The Etched Work of Victor Cobb (Melb, 1940)
  • H. W. Malloch, Fellows All (Melb, 1943)
  • Art in Australia, no 3, 1917, no 9, 1921
  • Presbyterian Church, Brunswick, Church News, 20 Oct 1944
  • Herald (Melbourne), 21 Nov 1928, 2 Dec 1931
  • Age (Melbourne), 25 Apr 1931
  • Argus (Melbourne), 3 Dec 1945
  • Australian Financial Review, 28 Apr 1977
  • private information.

Citation details

R. E. Nott, 'Cobb, Victor Ernest (1876–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 18 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Victor Cobb, c1930

Victor Cobb, c1930

State Library of Victoria, H41570

Life Summary [details]


14 August, 1876
Footscray, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


2 December, 1945 (aged 69)
Brunswick, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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