Wednesday, June 23, 2010

ILLUSTRATOR OF HISTORICAL MARITIME SUBJECTS



Montague Dawson, most likely the greatest sea painter of the Twentieth century, successfully harmonizes ship, sea and sky to produce enduring works of skilled composition, dynamic vigor and absolute realism…..
From the earliest age Dawson seemed destined to become a painter: he always knew how to draw and to use color, and even his childhood pictures have a remarkable assurance and flair. He completed his first painting, a watercolor sunset, just after his fifth birthday and, though he never went to art school, he took every opportunity of looking at paintings and absorbing the methods of the masters.
(HODGINS)


The Gallant Clipper: 'The Torrens'
Oil on canvas, 1875
Private collection
From ARC


Montague Dawson was unquestionably one of the greatest sea painters of the 20th century. Born in Chiswick, London, to a family of sea-farers; his father was an engineer, yachtsman and artist, while his grandfather, Henry Dawson, was a well known Victorian sea and landscape artist.....
At an early age, Montague moved with his family from Chiswick to Smuggler’s House, Southampton, in order to be closer to the sea. The family not only owned their own cutters, but participated in many boating events…..
(Rehs GALLERIES, INC)
Around 1910 Dawson joined a commercial art studio where he worked on posters and developed his skill of illustration. The most lasting influence on him as a painter was that of C. Napier Hemy RA, who "opened a doorway" for the young painter. Hemy lived at Falmouth, where Dawson used to visit him as a young naval officer during the Great War.
" After that," Dawson recalled, "there was never any question of my doing anything else apart from paint." Indeed, he was always able to live on money earned from his pictures; at the age of eight he sold one for two shillings and sixpence. "I thought I was made," he said.
With the coming of the First World War it was natural for Dawson to join the Royal Navy. However, he did not allow the war to interrupt his painting and became a regular contributor to the "Sphere" magazine with pictures and reconstructions of the war at sea. In 1918 when the German fleet surrendered, a whole issue of the periodical was devoted to his portrayal of that historic event…...
(HODGINS)
Throughout WWI and WWII, Dawson supplied the magazine Sphere with monochrome illustrations of historical events of the wars. It is notable that Sphere devoted an entire issue to Dawson’s portrayal of the German Grand Fleet’s surrender in WWI. It was these illustrations that brought him the notoriety necessary to secure his place as a highly regarded painter / illustrator of historical maritime subjects and portraits of deep-water sailing vessels…..
(Rehs GALLERIES, INC)
After the war he became a professional painter and illustrator and began to exhibit at the Royal Academy, although in latter years he was only an infrequent contributor. His reputation grew steadily so that by the 1930's he was already firmly established among the leading marine painters of the day, with a steady output and increasingly important commissions. Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, presented his painting of the Royal English Yacht "Blue Bottle" to the Duke of Edinburgh. American Presidential Collections have contained examples of Dawson's work.
Dawson's method of working was to make a preliminary study of his subject on oils, based on careful research, before beginning the larger version. He called this his "fight" with the canvas. His knowledge of the sea and ships, and his dedication to technical accuracy, combined to give him complete assurance that his work was as close to a truthful representation as he could make it. When he painted, he identified himself completely with the event.
"You really are there", he said. " You can hear the sea." As he saw it, accuracy in seascape or landscape painting had little to do with photographic exactness. "But if the memory of how it looks is clear, that is what the painter has put down."
Dawson's quick, controlled brushwork gives life to his paintings, and combined with his rigorous attention to nautical details makes them instantly truthful and appealing. He researched carefully for a painting and never knowingly left an inaccuracy uncorrected even for the sake of artistic effect. The rigging, for example, is painted with minutest care, not merely in physical detail, but also in the relative tension of the ropes and intricate shadows and patterns. He would often work quickly on a picture, completing in one session a work, which up until that point might have occupied many weeks. To him, marine painting combined the freedom of landscape painting with the disciplines of portraiture; the elements may be imaginatively painted but the ship must be a likeness both in detail and in character. "You must be quite certain that she is sailing with the wind in the proper quarter - if she is on port tack, you must make sure the sails are filled from the port tack."
The strong narrative elements in Dawson's work are especially appealing. His paintings recreate, often with deep affection and knowledge, moments of drama and history, which seem to leap across the intervening centuries. He ranged widely for his subjects, recording the Battle of Trafalgar, moments from American War of Independence, the return of the CUTTY SARK, and very often the races between the tea clippers returning to London from China.
(HODGINS)


Swinging Along, The Clipper Ship 'The Racer'
Oil on canvas
Private collection
From ARC


The Clipper Ship Blue Jacket On Choppy Seas
Oil on canvas
Private collection
From ARC


Dawson spent much of his time messing about in boats in Southampton Water. Here the young artist first saw the towering masts and elegant lines of that breed of sailing ship known as the 'tea-clipper'. Built for speed and endurance, at the same time able to carry a considerable tonnage, these vessels were designed to bring the tea harvest from China to the west as fast as wind and tide would allow-and then some. Huge fortunes could be made by the company who delivered the first cargo of the crop and so command the highest price and rivalry between captains was legendary. Dawson could portray these magnificent vessels under full sail in all their finery, "veritable clouds of canvas" like no other. He alone seemed to have achieved the ability to paint a ship under a full press of sail and put it in the water with apparent ease and a startling accuracy. Dawson's ships cut through the waves-they don't bob about on the top like so many lesser marine artists endeavours.
This ability did not happen overnight. For some ten years after World War I Dawson worked to find a technique which would enable him to paint the sea as no other artist had realised it before. He wanted to show light on the water and, at the same time shows light through the water. In this he was helped by Charles Napier Hemy, who Dawson met in the Royal Navy when he joined the Service at the beginning of the war. Napier Hemy never quite got the knack of what Dawson wanted, but through his influence and years of experiment, Dawson eventually achieved the desired effect.
He used the local fishing boats and the small yachts that abounded in Southampton Water as his models, and he frequently used gouache and watercolour to pursue his aims. By the early 1930's Dawson was satisfied that he could produce the desired effects and he began to paint the deep sea subjects for which he became so famous.
(Adapted from “Montague Dawson RSMA, 1895-1973” at DUKE ART GALLERY)


Arrival of QUEEN MARY At Southampton
On Her Maiden Voyage
Oil on Canvas, Circa 1936
Private collection
From Vallejo Gallery


A grand Blue Riband Liner of the Cunard Line, QUEEN MARY (above) was formally launched from John Brown’s yard at Clydebank on September 26, 1934 with her namesake monarch presiding at the event. Completely fitted out by the Spring of 1936, she steamed into service to Southampton on March 27, 1936 with much fanfare and several tugboat escorts, shown with their full dress flags.
Montague Dawson assuredly was on hand to witness her arrival. He captured the foreground details of the awe-struck witnesses against the elusive distance and size of the 1,019', 81,235 gross-ton liner with superb artistry in this earlier period painting. Two other important liners are present, the Union-Castle’s unique four-stacker WINDSOR CASTLE, the eggplant-white liner off the stern; and White Star’s Liner MAJESTIC, with her three black topped buff funnels, destined for the breaking yard days later. QUEEN MARY was completed through a £3 million assist by the British Government under condition that the Cunard and White Star Companies merged to form one with less competition.
QUEEN MARY would make 1,002 voyages in her 31-year career, traveling 3,795,000 miles, transporting 2,115,000 fare-paying passengers, and more than 800,000 British, Australian and American troops. Her first Transatlantic voyage to New York would begin on May 27th, after thousands of visitors, including the Royal Family. She would steam round Cape Horn on her last to Long Beach, California, where she still serves today as a tourism attraction and living maritime museum.
Then, in 1939 came a fortunate break which Dawson took and which was to teach him so much about tone values. Dawson was commissioned by the Sphere as an official war artist to depict incidents from the war at sea, Allied landings and propaganda subjects thought fit to release to the public to boost morale. Because the war effort dictated that magazines such as the Sphere should use second quality paper and inks with no colour printing, all the illustrations appeared as black and white. Dawson noticed that where he had one colour showing against another, in monochrome both appeared as the same tone, so detail was lost. He therefore began to paint in monochrome and became aware of the delicate subtleties of half-tone and light contrasts. When this knowledge was put into colour, Dawson's pictures suddenly took on a realism not seen before in any other marine artists work.....
(Montague Dawson RSMA, 1895-1973 at DUKE ART GALLERY)


KING GEORGE V in Action Against the Japanese
Grisaille Oil on Board, Circa 1945
From Vallejo Gallery


KING GEORGE V in Action Against the Japanese (detail)


The name-ship for its class of battleships, KING GEORGE V (above) is shown in battle against Japanese planes and ships off Okinawa, March 1945. The battleship launched in 1939, and in ten years earned a vast array of battle honors, including sinking of the Bismark on May 27, 1941, when she was flagship of the Home Fleet under Admiral Sir John Cronyn Tovey. She joined the Pacific Fleet in 1945 under Admiral Chester Nimitz for the Allied Invasion of Okinanwa.
Painted in the last year of World War II, Dawson produced fine detailed finished works with the grey tones of grisaille oil. While this one owns some colored oil pigments in accent, it is of such a somber nature to inspire remembrances of those who sacrificed for the benefit of others. The flurry of bombardment and gun smoke makes the moment immediate to the battle, and KING GEORGE V’s participation in the victory absolutely vital.
Built under restrictive armament codes established after World War I, the battleship was actually outgunned against the German battleship BiSMARK and later, TIRPITZ in combat. Her measures were 745'L x 103'B x 35.5' D, and carried 10 14-inch guns, 16 5.2 inch and 64 2-pounders. She had twin aircraft geared turbines, pushing about 10,000 HP to her screw propellers.
(Vallejo Gallery)


American Windjammer Under Full Sail
Oil on Canvas, Circa 1950
Provenance: Private Toronto, Canada Collection
From Vallejo Gallery


A striking work by the artist Montague Dawson, best known for painting such ships on open driving oceans. The sharp bodied hull in a brilliant white with a red-oxide coloration at the barely visible waterline is moving smartly over the ocean, with nearly every sail in its contingent set. It is our belief that this ship’s identity may come with additional research, as an American ship with such a look would be known to some people on sight, including the men shown on its deck.
The composition has nice touches pulled from Dawson’s overall repertoire, and the shore of the distant headland, with a fore-and-aft rigged vessel, give the sailing ship a nice sense of scale. She is moving rapidly, with assist from the stuns’ls wide on each wooden yard. The natural wood coloration at the rail harkens back to the best ships of the world’s sailing navies.
From where Dawson garnered his inspiration for this excellent work remains to be discovered. He often worked in smaller sketches, and with models, and the titles of most of his works were recorded in L.G.G. Ramsey’s catalogue of paintings by the artist in 1967. Every element that is sought in his art, from the deep impasto flourish of a white-capped blue-green sea, an atmosphere of complementary coloration with blue sky and moving clouds, and a spectacular driven and detailed ship, is present in this painting.


Yacht Race Off the Needles, Isle of Wight
Grisaille on Canvas Circa 1950
From Vallejo Gallery


Yacht Race Off the Needles, Isle of Wight (detail)


Yacht Race Off the Needles, Isle of Wight (detail)


A fleet of racing sloops battle each other and the notorious deep currents of the Solent, as they pass by the Needles at the western edge of the Isle of Wight. The Needles Lighthouse is 86 feet high and rising in monochromatic glory above the pinnacles in this tonal work by maritime master Montague Dawson. The air is clear enough that the people in the deep cockpits of the 6-metre plum-bowed racing sloops can see the other competitors well enough.
Painted in his early post-World War II period, Dawson continued to produce fine detailed finished works occasionally in the solitary grey tones of grisaille. While it takes a bit more effort of introspective viewing to notice it all, the detail and perfect composition of the painting make this fine yachting work. Dawson’s recognition as one of the world’s leading marine artists is enhanced by such diversity of maritime subjects and media he used. By the 1930s he recognized and defined his own style as “growing more and more loose” in atmosphere, and his seas take on a defined and recognizable technique, even when portrayed exclusively in tonal values.
Paintings by the artist continues to be in steady demand and active in public markets. The scarcity of yachting scenes make any which come up for sale highly desirable. This composition needs no additional boost, with its fine artistic qualities and the scene set in its Southern English location to the premier home of international yacht racing.
(Vallejo Gallery)


Night Suspect
Oil on canvas, 1958
Provenance: Frost & Reed, London, 1960
Private American Collection
Exhibited: Royal Society of Marine Painters
1958, London Guildhall
From Vallejo Gallery


Night Suspect detail


Night Suspect detail


“Night Suspect” (above) proved to be a perfect choice by the artist for exhibition in the 1958 Royal Society of Marine Painters’ London Guildhall. The impact of the drama shown on deck and its personalization of the chase of the smugglers by the Royal Navy Revenue Service sailors, cannons blazing, is amazing. We know of less than six other Dawson works that display such a precise view of action ondeck, including the iconic “The Rising Wind”, widely recognized due to prints featuring that painting. None of these other deck scenes are of a ship engaged in a pursuit, firing cannons.
Dawson said he himself “battled” through his blank canvases, from sketches, models and preliminary paintings to deliver his large scale masterpieces. He was known for working day and night, driven to succeed and finding a personal joy at his chosen profession. As a young man his family lived in Southampton in the residence known then and now as “The Smuggler’s House”, and he served firsthand in the British Navy Reserve and was well familiar with the last sail/steam warships of the British Navy. Likely he’d have held sympathy for both crews he has painted in this masterpiece.
In an action taking place within the English Channel, possibly the approach to Deal, a known haven for smugglers, Dawson’s Revenue Service men have sighted and sprung upon a brigantine. Dawson has the full moonlight glorious catching the ships and sea, making the potentially deadly action radiate with the romance of adventure on the high seas. This work has it all.
(Vallejo Gallery)


RED JACKET At Sunset
Oil on Canvas, 1959
From Vallejo Gallery


An impressive luminous view of the famous RED JACKET Clipper at sea (above), this painting is a masterful composition Montague Dawson. The emotional content of the rose-edged clouds in the late afternoon sky glows while the clipper gracefully transverses an ocean that Dawson has stroked into a serene calm. The vast horizon is one of the most distant we have seen in his paintings.
RED JACKET is an extreme clipper that deserves as much acclaim as any ship that ever sailed. No less an authority than naval architect William A. Fairburn declares that she was “the best as well as the handsomest of all the clipper ships built.” Built in Rockland, Maine by “Deacon” George Thomas from the design of Samuel H. Pook of Boston in 1853, she sailed for owners Seccomb & Taylor out of Boston on a maiden Liverpool run. She was so popularly received that the British “White Star Line” hired her for an extensive charter in their English-Australia route. For 25 years she set sailing records, often averaging well over 300 miles a day sailing, and outperformed the most acclaimed of the clipper ships. Since she was America-built, the British chose to downplay her efforts, and since she was in British service, the Americans squabbled over her records. Here Dawson does her justice in a beautifully rendered remembrance in oil.
(Vallejo Gallery)


WINGED RACER
Oil on Canvas, Circa 1960s
Provenance: Gallery Walter Klinkhoff, Montreal, Canada
Private Canadian Collection
From Vallejo Gallery


WINGED RACER detail


WINGED RACER detail


A superior extreme tea clipper of the Sampson & Tappan Fleet, WINGED RACER (above) launched into a career of fast voyages, acclaim, and ultimately a terrible final fate. Birthed out of the East Boston Yard of Robert Jackson in the winter of 1852, from the design of Samuel Pook, she has the largest clipper of the Samson & Tappan Line, following their three clippers of renown built by Donald McKay: STAG HOUND, FLYING FISH and WESTWARD HO. The George Upton-led company, partnering with John and Robert Forbes and others, led the sailing trades to California, India and the Far East.
WINGED RACER was by all accounts, including this inspired work of art by Montgaue Dawson, a beautiful ship with the sharp lines and a clipper bow that was inspired by the speedy pilot schooners. Her maiden voyage was a Cape Horn run to California in a fast 108 days, and she would sail the route again in 1853 and 1861. Like most 1850s clippers, she continued on through to Hawaii and on to Manilla and China before completing the round the world voyages back to her Boston home port. Dawson has created a remarkable work of art, with a driven, crashing sea bucking and challenging the skill of the fast clipper ship’s crew. After her 1861 run to California, she hit ice off Annapolis, delaying her sailing to the Far East nine months. She sailed out in Dec. 1862, and after preparing a return voyage of sugar, coffee and cigars to New York under the command of Captain George Cumming, she was captured and burned by the Confederate Raider ALABAMA on Nov. 10, 1863. Thanks to Dawson, her glory lives on.
(Vallejo Gallery)


The Escaping Smuggler
Oil on Canvas, Circa 1960
Provenance: Williams & Sons, London
Private Michigan Collection
From Vallejo Gallery


The Escaping Smuggler (detail)


A fine work of art by the prolific Montague Dawson has a Royal Navy Revenue Ship of the British government chasing a full bodied brigantine carrying unknown goods in this dynamic scene. The drama shown of the men aloft and outward on the booms working the jib sails in interesting and ful of danger, especially considering the muzzle flash and splash of the “taxmen” cannons. It is a rare Dawson painting to show deck activity and ships engaged in a pursuit. Dawson said he himself “battled” through his blank canvases, from sketches, models and preliminary paintings to deliver his masterpieces. He was known for working day and night, driven to succeed and finding a personal joy at his chosen profession. As a young man his family lived in Southampton in the residence known then and now as “The Smuggler’s House”, and he served firsthand in the British Navy Reserve and was well familiar with the last sail/steam warships of the British Navy. Likely he’d have held sympathy for both crews he has painted in this exceptional marine narrative.
In the action, possibly taking place in the English Channel near “The Downs”, a known haven for smugglers, Dawson’s Revenue Service men have sighted and sprung upon a brigantine. It appears they themselves are sailing a barque, as it appears to have two sets of yards with stunsails set. Under a wicked sky, the ships, sea and setting radiate with the romance of high seas adventure.



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