The prize was initiated by the Trustees of the Sir William Dobell Art Foundation. In 2003, the prize money was $20,000. This was increased to $25,000 in 2009. The Dobell Prize is an acquisitive award, with the gallery keeping past winners in the permanent collection. There were 685 entrants in the first year of the prize, in 1993, of which only 34 were exhibited, and there were similar numbers in following years.