Montague Dawson R.S.M.A., F.R.S.A.



Artist's Biography & Works For Sale

Montague Dawson R.S.M.A., F.R.S.A. is considered by many to be the finest maritime painter of the 20th century. His best known works depict 19th century square-rigged sailing ships. Dawson’s paintings are renowned for their technical accuracy, nautical detail and realistic portrayal of the elemental qualities of sea and sky.

The grandson of marine painter Henry Dawson (1811-1878), and the son of typographer, etcher and engineer Charles Ernest Dawson (born c1860), Montague Dawson was born in Chiswick, London. The family moved to the Southampton area to a property called Smuggler’s House, looking out over Southampton Water – when he was a young boy and he spent most of his childhood by the sea. He learnt about ships and sailing from his father who was a keen amateur yachtsman and he soon started to combine his early nautical interest with his gift for drawing. He had no formal artistic education, but in his late teens he went to work in a commercial art studio in central London where his on-the-job training gave him basic skills in illustration and graphic design, and the capital’s museums and galleries gave him inspiration for his future artistic career.

With the outbreak of the First World War, Dawson joined the Navy. His talents were put to good use when he was assigned the duty of documenting the war at sea in a series of drawings and watercolours  – many of which (including his eyewitness report of the momentous surrender of the German High Seas Fleet in 1918) were published in The Sphere, a popular weekly news magazine. It was during this period that Dawson met the renowned marine painter Charles Napier Hemy, RA (1841-1917), who became a mentor and friend.

Another fascinating episode in Dawson’s life – and one that resulted in some intriguingly uncharacteristic works within his oeuvre – was his voyage to the Pacific islands in 1924. He was appointed as official artist by the organisers, the newly formed business venture Research Expeditions Ltd, and joined eight scientists and seven paying passengers on board the steam yacht St George, visiting innumerable exotic locations during a memorable trip that lasted almost a year. He submitted illustrated reports of the expedition to The Graphic magazine.

During the inter-war years, Dawson fully established himself as a professional maritime artist. He favoured historical subjects, and became known for his ‘ship portraits’ showing vessels of note in full sail on the open ocean. He began to achieve substantial commercial success, showing his work at the Royal Academy and Royal Society of Marine Artists. In 1934 he moved out of London (with his wife, Doris Mary, and young daughter, Nyria) and relocated to Milford-on-Sea in Hampshire. Three years later, thanks to his considerable earnings, he was able to purchase a large, fashionable Art Deco house right on the coast. This was to be his home for the rest of his life, and he also built a studio there.

During the Second World War he again produced drawings and paintings of the naval conflict for publication in The Sphere, and his pictures were also used as morale-boosting propaganda by the British government. The post-war years brought even greater recognition and a prestigious client list that included the British royal family and US presidents Dwight D Eisenhower and Lyndon B Johnson. In fact Montague Dawson’s painting career is acknowledged to be one of the most financially successful of the 20th century. He died in 1973, at the age of 83, leaving an unrivalled legacy of fine contemporary marine art.

Montague Dawson’s works are in the collections of the National Maritime Museum (Greenwich), Royal Naval Museum (Portsmouth), Southampton City Art Gallery and Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums.

We also wish to purchase original works by Montague Dawson so if you have one to sell, please contact us.