Montague Dawson

Montague Dawson is one of Britain’s most celebrated marine artists. He was born in Chiswick in 1895 and lived at Milford from 1934 until his death in 1973.

Although he had no formal artistic training, he had a natural talent, possibly inherited from his grandfather, a successful landscape painter. At the age of 15, he joined a commercial art studio at Bedford Row in London where he improved his skills as an illustrator and poster artist.

During WWI he was a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, serving on minesweepers and other small vessels. He still found plenty of time to draw and later produced a series of watercolours of naval activity around Gibraltar for the Imperial War Museum. Due to his knowledge of ships and ability to draw he was tasked with recording the war at sea. Many of these were published in the weekly newspaper The Sphere and brought him recognition as an artist.

HMS Sloop Chrysanthemum, Dazzle-painted: Refitting at Gibraltar by Montague Dawson, 1919. Courtesy of the IWM.

Dawson joined the Dazzle department on 27 August 1917, which created patterns to disguise the outline of  battleships. His duties under Norman Wilkinson included periods at Leith, Edinburgh. From December 1918 until February 1919 he worked for the Naval Publicity Department enabling him to paint Dazzle ships in Gibraltar.

A versatile artist, Dawson produced dramatic deck scenes of deep-water sailing ships, yachts and Royal Navy subjects. He was present at the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet on 21 November 1918, and his illustrations were published in The Sphere.

During time spent in Falmouth Dawson met and was inspired by the marine painter Charles Napier Hemy to pursue a career as an artist.

Dawson had been a keen sailor since childhood and during the 1920s he produced a series of watercolours of yacht racing. However, he was gradually developing a looser and more dramatic style of oil painting which was to make him one of the world’s most sought after marine artists.

Montague Dawson, The Winning Tack, Private Collection

Today he is best known for oil paintings of clipper ships, usually in full sail on rough seas, but he also produced battle scenes, fishing, yachting and historical subjects.

Dawson produced a number of yachting scenes and was commissioned by many famous yachtsmen to immortalise their craft. On the right you can see a 1930s West Solent One-Design built by Berthon Boat Co and skippered by its owner Harry May. Dawson’s trademark swell is evident and the vigorous brushwork helps to capture the action and excitement of the moment.

In 1934 Dawson, his wife Doris Mary and daughter Nyria moved to Milford. In 1937 they settled briefly at Danestream, then moved to a house on Hurst Road which overlooked the sea. This had been designed for the Ideal Home Exhibition and was his home for the rest of his life.

From his Milford home Dawson watched the 24th Lancers preparing for D-Day in 1944. The painting Bombing Up now belongs to the Regiment.

About the same time, his reputation as a marine artist grew significantly and by now he was submitting work to the Royal Academy exhibitions. In his studio in the back garden, Dawson devoted himself to painting seven days a week, often from 5.30am until the early hours of the following day, taking breaks for meals.

The entire household was organised around his work with his wife and daughter doing their best to keep visitors at bay. Dawson’s single-mindedness certainly paid off. By the 1960s, demand for his work meant he could make £100,000 in a year and drove a Rolls Royce.

Dawson became a member of the Royal Society of Marine Painters in 1946. Among his clients were the British Royal family and US Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson. He died in 1973 but remains one of the world’s best known marine painters.

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