Victor Ernest Cobb, printmaker, painter, illustrator, writer and lecturer, was born on 14 August 1876, in Footscray, Victoria. He was the eighth child and youngest son of the Englishman John Frederic Cobb, a surgeon who also practiced art and produced architectural drawings, and Mary Anne Elizabeth née King from New Zealand.
In 1891-93 Cobb attended the Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, where he received guidance in drawing from the Art Master, Jack Sommers, a member of the Victorian Artists’ Society. Continuing his artistic training, Cobb enrolled in classes at the NGV School of Design in 1896. He studied drawing under Bernard Hall and met Lionel Lindsay, John Shirlow and Ernest Moffitt, with whom he shared an interest in etching. As noted in a newspaper article from The Brisbane Courier in 1932, together these artists crafted hand-made tools and built their own etching presses. In 1987, Andrew Mackenzie published letters that Cobb had written to Lionel Lindsay, whom the artist addressed in a letter on 7 February 1918 as ‘Dear Bro. Lionel’, demonstrating the close relationship that developed between the artists.
Victor Cobb travelled to South Africa in 1901 and after arriving in Durban he enlisted in the Johannesburg Mounted Rifles. He fought in the Boer War with distinction and was awarded the Queen’s Medal with three clasps. His experience of the war is represented through works such as Reminiscences of the late Boer War – Boer Farm in Ruins, South Africa exhibited in the Society of Arts Gallery, Adelaide, 10th Federal Exhibition 1907. Following the war Cobb served with the Johannesburg Police Force as a police artist and worked as a clerk in the Central South African Railways.
Cobb returned to Melbourne in 1905 and was employed in several different occupations. One of his jobs was as a mail order clerk in Cole’s Book Arcade, where he met Alice Barrett, whom he later married in 1908. Cobb also 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 along with the artist Cyril Dillon. Many of his etchings served as motifs for popular Christmas cards familiar to the public, and his etching of the State Parliament House, Victoria, was hung in Westminster Hall, London. In 1923 three of his works (St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Deserted Home, Eltham, and White Gums, Gippsland) were selected for the Exhibition of Australian Art shown in London at the Royal Academy of Arts. In November 1925 Victor Cobb began work under (Sir) Colin Mackenzie as science artist to the National Museum of Australian Zoology. During the next five years, Cobb made hundreds of detailed anatomical drawings of Australian marsupials and reptiles, and skulls and skeletons of Aboriginals and notorious criminals, including Ned Kelly.
Cobb is best known for his etchings (numbering approximately two hundred separate works) in which he depicted street scenes, rural vistas (with gum trees appearing as a recurring motif) and the architecture of Melbourne, particularly the campus buildings of Melbourne University. His other works include drypoints, mezzotints, watercolours, oils, pen and ink, pencil, charcoal, sculpture, silhouettes and wood engravings. It is also worth noting that fellow artists including John Shirlow and Norman Lindsay entrusted Cobb to print a number of their own etched plates.
Cobb exhibited his work regularly from 1900 to his death in 1945. Examples of such exhibitions include the Victorian Gold Jubilee Exhibition in Bendigo in 1901 and the ‘Exhibition of Etchings of Victor Cobb’ at the Guild Hall, Melbourne in 1912, which was reported as the first solo show of etchings held in Melbourne. Cobb also taught etching and lectured in country centres as well as art societies, schools and universities. Included among the venues where he presented lectures were the Ballarat Art Gallery (23 November 1927), Bread and Cheese Club, Melbourne (24 September 1941), Melbourne Writers’ Club (22 May 1942) and the FernTree Gully Art Exhibition, Shire Hall (7 October 1944). At a number of his lectures Cobb also gave practical demonstrations of etching techniques.
Victor Cobb died at his home in East Brunswick, Victoria on 2 December 1945. As a final tribute to his etching, drawing and writing skills, one of his pens was placed in his writing hand when buried (refer to page 18 of Andrew Mackenzie’s book The Etchings, Lecture Notes and Writings of Victor Cobb 1876-1945).
Cobb was a member of the Twenty Melbourne Painters’ Society for over 20 years and the Victorian Artists’ Society for over 40 years. He also served as a V.A.S. Council member for 11 years.
The art of Victor Ernest Cobb is represented in several Australian collections including the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne and the Baillieu Library Print Collection, The University of Melbourne, Victoria.
A portrait of the artist by John Hennessy is in the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery.