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Dawson, Montague (1890–1973), marine artist, was born at Burlington House, Chiswick, on 19 September 1890, the son of Charles Ernest Dawson (b. 1860/61), typographer, etcher, and engineer, and Florence Hope, née Bithrey. He had five siblings, Elizabeth, Harold, Horace, Ada, and Eva. His grandfather was the landscape artist . Dawson moved with his family to the Smugglers House, Hythe, on Southampton Water, and he passed his childhood drawing and ‘messing about in boats’. Educated by tutors at home and never apprenticed to a studio, he learned about painting by studying the work of Dutch and English sea painters. Before the First World War he worked as a commercial artist in Holborn, then enlisted in the Royal Navy, serving as lieutenant on trawlers and minesweepers. He worked with the marine artist Norman Wilkinson (1878–1971) on the development of dazzle painting on warships. In Falmouth, Dawson met Charles Napier Hemy RA (1841–1917), the only contemporary artist to influence his work. He regularly submitted to The Sphere illustrations of the war at sea, and there recorded the surrender of the German Grand Fleet.

After the war Dawson sailed to the West Indies on a square-rigger and used his sketches years later for such subjects as Pirates Cove, Cocos Island, Wafer Bay (1969; priv. coll.). He lived briefly at 8 Percy Street, London, in 1920, then at 19 Stratford Place, off Oxford Street, and at 2A St Charles Square, Kensington from about 1925. On 28 April 1921 he married Doris Mary Lyle (1898/9–1972) at Holy Trinity Church, Paddington; their only daughter, Nyria, was born in 1928. In 1934 the family moved to the New Forest and two years later he bought Hurst, a 1930s property overlooking the Solent.

Dawson's success owed much to his dealer—he sold through Frost and Reed, London, whose astute, energetic managing director, Stanley Wade, created a worldwide market for his paintings and further publicized Dawson's name by selling reproductions of his art. But from early days his work sold easily. He began exhibiting at the Royal Academy in 1917, was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 1936, and became a founder member of the Royal Society of Marine Artists in 1939, exhibiting there regularly between 1946 and 1970. By the 1960s Dawson was reputed to be the highest paid living artist after Picasso. His work was certainly the highest priced of any living marine artist of the twentieth century and he was the century's leading exponent of painting clipper ships at sea. His wife and daughter helped cope with his constant stream of fan mail. His work was imitated by many and fakes began to appear even in his lifetime. He enjoyed success, particularly as it brought him the admiration of several members of the royal family and examples of his work entered the Royal Collection.

Dawson's best early works are watercolours, usually yacht races, fishing boats, or clipper ships, but by 1930 Dawson mostly painted in oils. In 1939–45 he again produced monochrome illustrations of the naval war for The Sphere and some full-size canvases (several versions) of warships, notably the Sinking of HMS Kelly. From the 1930s onwards he depicted named vessels many times over; paintings include Cutty Sark and Lightning (the famous wool clippers), Ariel and Taeping and Thermopylae (tea clippers), and Chesapeake and Shannon and the USS Constitution (battleships). In 1970 he finished a large canvas, Battle of Trafalgar (priv. coll.), having uncovered during his research new evidence about Nelson's instructions to the rest of the fleet. He depicted the J-class yachts Rainbow and Endeavour and pioneering ships such as the Golden Hind and Mayflower, but few steamships. The heavy brushwork of his early pictures became more refined over the decades, bringing the ability to unite in motion the vessel, waves, and sky in a lifelike though poetic style. He researched his subjects at length and achieved veracity in every detail, the sails and rigging always correctly set for the amount of wind and the tilt of the vessel.

Dawson died at Western Hospital, Southampton, on 21 May 1973 and was buried at Boldre church, Lymington, Hampshire.

Juliet M. Johnson

Sources  

L. G. G. Ramsey, Montague Dawson, RSMA, FRSA (1967) · private information (2004); (2006) [C. Duncan] · A. Jarman and others, eds., Royal Academy exhibitors, 1905–1970: a dictionary of artists and their work in the summer exhibitions of the Royal Academy of Arts, 6 vols. (1973–82), vol. 2 · R. Ranson, The maritime paintings of Montague Dawson (1993) · C. B. de Laperrière, Royal Society of Marine Artists, exhibitors, 1946–1997 (1998) · A. Dawson, The life of Henry Dawson, landscape painter (1891) · ‘Dawson, Henry’, DNB · b. cert. · m. cert. · d. cert.

Archives  

priv. coll., MSS, photographs, press cuttings


Likenesses  

two photographs, c.1967–c.1970 · photograph