The Maritime Art of Montague Dawson

31st August 2022

In the world of maritime art and antiques there are certain “blue chip” names that every collector and dealer looks for and one of those is that of Montague Dawson. Born in 1890 and the grandson of another marine painter-Henry Dawson-Montague was also influenced by his father’s keen interest in yachting and his choice of career was never really in doubt. By 1924 he had been recruited as the official on-board artist for the voyage of the steam yacht St George to the South Seas and he later served in the Dazzle Painting Section based at Leith during World War II. Due to his being present at the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet at the end of the war, he was able to capture many memorable images of that momentous event, some of which were used as illustrations in The Sphere.

Dawson’s images of privately-owned vessels, whether commissioned by their owners, builders or simply created “on spec” proved to be extremely popular during his lifetime and his clientele was second to none. Amongst those who owned paintings by the artist were members of the British royal family and at least two American presidents-namely Lyndon B. Johnson and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Dawson was a fellow of the Royal Society of Marine Artists and the Royal Society of Arts and exhibited at the Royal Academy on occasion as well.

Since Dawson’s death in 1973 the market for his work has remained very strong and we are taking this opportunity to highlight the artist and his paintings as we currently have a very large and representative selection of his pictures-in multiple different mediums-in stock, allowing connoisseurs and collectors a rare chance to compare and contrast multiple works by one of Britain’s most established artists in this genre. His work forms part of the following museum collections worldwide:

Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne

McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock

National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC

Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth

Southampton City Art Gallery, Southampton

Tyne and Wear Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne

As you will see, we are keen to find more details regarding the classes of yachts-and hopefully the precise vessels-depicted in two of the works of art and would be very grateful indeed for any positive leads given by the knowledgeable folk who read our blog and newsletter. A bottle of something bubbly will be gratefully supplied in return so do please read on.

Montague Dawson: ‘Down Solent’ showing ‘Cohoe’, the 1950 Transatlantic Race winning yacht of K. Adlard Coles

This fine oil on canvas shows the yacht Cohoe, winner of the 1950 Transatlantic Race and owned by the famous yachting publisher K. Adlard Coles. Painted c.1950, this piece measures 24×36 inches. The painting retains a gallery label for the Roberts Art Gallery in Toronto with the title “Down Solent, The Yacht Cohoe”.

Down Solent’ showing ‘Cohoe’, the 1950 Transatlantic Race winning yacht of K. Adlard Coles
Down Solent’ showing ‘Cohoe’, the 1950 Transatlantic Race winning yacht of K. Adlard Coles

Quite simply, this painting has everything one could want when looking at an example of Dawson’s work. The subject matter is very interesting-a prize winning yacht owned by such a major figure in the yachting world, it is of good size and Dawson’s oils are particularly sought-after. As a business based in the Solent it is also lovely to have a local connection.

Valetta Harbour

Valetta Harbour
Valetta Harbour

Although painted merely some 10 years earlier than the previous piece, Valetta Harbour is noticeably different in style. Painted in the grisaille palette-utilising multiple shades of grey in other words-this work depicts a British Hunt Class Type II destroyer in Valetta Harbour, Malta. The medium employed here is also different as this is an oil on board. The painting retains a Frost and Reed gallery label, this being the famous London gallery with which Dawson exhibited loyally for his entire career. The sense of calm and stillness in the painting is very restful, aided by the beautiful sepia-like tones. This painting is a little smaller than the preceding piece at 14×22 inches and is an utterly charming example of the artist’s work

Careening the hull 

Next we have another fine grisaille work, signed and dated 1960 and also with a Frost and Reed label. It is inscribed on the back “gone aground” and shows two three masted vessels being careened. A tender is steadying the bow of one of the vessels and men are cleaning the exposed hull of another vessel in the background. It is possible that the grisaille palette is an indication that this was intended as a study for a print. Frost and Reed issued several series of prints after Dawson, seeking to capitalise on his growing reputation and examples are held in in the British Museum amongst other collections.

The framed dimensions of this piece are 8×10 inches.

A small Montague Dawson oil on panel of ships being careened, dated 1960
A small Montague Dawson oil on panel of ships being careened, dated 1960

Racing Six-Metre yachts

This is a fine example of a gouache on paper by Dawson and it depicts a Six-Metre racing yacht. This class was chosen for use in the Olympic Games between 1908 and 1952 and so, at the time that  this picture was made c.1920, this would have been a true racing enthusiast’s dream. 

In this case we know that the yacht in the painting was built by Camper and Nicholson. George Nicholson is known to have directly commissioned paintings of his yachts from Dawson-though these are usually in oil-but it is not certain whether this was a private commission or something produced for the builders themselves. Given the sail number on the yacht, the vessel depicted must be the Patience (later the Cindy Lou from 1962 onwards).

The framed dimensions of this piece are 27.5×36.5 inches.

Racing Siz-Metre Yachts
Racing Siz-Metre Yachts

The Two “Mystery Vessel” Pictures – Amateur Yachtswomen & Windy Day

As stated in the introduction, here are the two paintings where we have been unable to ascertain the precise classes of yachts depicted or, of course, the names of the vessels themselves. Any help with this would be gratefully accepted and, as promised, a bottle of bubbly is on offer for a correct attribution in either case!

The first painting depicts a very intriguing subject. Two amateur yachtswomen-presumably, given the facial similarities, mother and daughter-sailing their yacht with the help of male yachtsman who stands on the foredeck holding the shrouds by the mast. Amateur subjects of any sort were rare for Dawson and yachtswomen all the more so. Additionally, the vessel has an unusual rudder-yoke tiller with port and starboard ropes coming over the shoulders of the lady operating it. An intriguing note on the back of the piece states that it was delivered to Mr. W.H. ?? in the Bank of Commerce Building, Windsor, Ontario. It was painted c.1930 and is a gouache on paper like the previous example and the framed dimensions are 24.75×30.5 inches

The second of our “mystery” vessels is depicted in this painting, titled “Windy Day”

This fine work is executed in watercolour and measures 21×28.5 inches. As mentioned before, the precise class of vessel shown in the painting is at present unknown and we would welcome any assistance that could be offered. This piece was in the possession of the Lymington-based gallery The Old Customs House and was then sold to an American private collection and we are delighted to have brought the piece back to Hampshire once again. It is a very dramatic example of Dawson’s work and would make a fine conversation piece in any setting.

 

‘A Windy Day’ by Montague Dawson
‘A Windy Day’ by Montague Dawson
Amateur Yachtswomen
Amateur Yachtswomen

 

Sketches

Finally, we also have two sets of sketches by Dawson, framed as groups of three images.

 

A set of three pen, ink and water colour sketches set in a single farme, HMS Euphrates, HMS Irresistible and a hulk, a view of Sunbury Lock and a Dreadnought alongside at Portsmouth with notations. These sketches were bought from the sale of the artist’s studio after his death in 1975 so their provenance is impeccable. The annotations shed light on the artist’s working practice and they offer an interesting insight in to the way that the master crafted each of his finished compositions-working them up in a series of more detailed sketches.

The second set of sketches are on the back of three postcards and, once again, offer a tantalising glimpse in to the world of a master artist as he began to think about the subjects of a composition. His meticulous attention to detail is obvious even at this stage in the compositional process.

We hope that you will be inspired to visit us and see these beautiful works of art in person. Additionally, further details including prices are available on our website. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if we can help with any queries you might have and we hope that you may be inspired to start a collection of the artist’s work in your own home or business premises. 

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