The Master of Maritime: Montague Dawson

  • March 20, 2019 13:37

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Over the Crest: The Lightning by Montague Dawson
M.S. Rau Antiques (New Orleans)
A Ship in Open Water by Montague Dawson
M.S. Rau Antiques (New Orleans)

Montague Dawson spent his lifetime devoted to the sea. He grew up alongside it during the early years of his childhood in London; he fought upon it during the Great War; and he captured it on canvas throughout his long and highly successful career as a painter. Few artists could boast such a natural and innate understanding of the water - he not only knew just how it moved, but also how ships moved through it. The interplay between ships, weather and water comes to life in his works, with a painstaking level of detail and remarkable sense of drama that is unmatched.

When viewing his canvases, Dawson's affinity for the sea is clear. He is undoubtedly considered the preeminent marine painter of the 20th century, with works that document the great clippers and warships of the 18th and 19th centuries. His paintings are not only odes to the open waters, but also the greatest historic ships that have sailed them.

He came to enjoy the thrill of life on the water at a young age. He was the son of an engineer who was also an avid Thames yachtsman, and Dawson spent many long hours aboard the family cutter. His talent for art came from his grandfather, Henry Dawson, who was a successful landscape painter. Though he was never formally trained, Dawson embarked on a program of self-instruction that included a study of the Masters. By the time he was just eight years old, he sold his first painting, and by twelve, he won his first art competition, which was run by Boy’s Own Paper.

Unsurprisingly, when World War I broke out he joined the Royal Navy, eventually being promoted to the position of naval officer aboard two small ships. Rather than give up his art during the war, Dawson became a regular contributor as a wartime illustrator to The Sphere, a prestigious British newspaper.

While he continued to paint military vessels even after the war, his primary interest lay in historic ships, which he captured with remarkable accuracy. It is for these works that he is best known today, and that earned him the moniker “King of the Clipper Ship School.”

By the 1940s, Dawson was a household name, and he had gained a certain amount of celebrity status throughout England. He was both a commercial and critical success, and soon acquired a great deal of wealth that would have allowed him to retire in a life of leisure should he have chosen. However, he remained dedicated to his art, producing new works with an admirable consistency throughout his career.

His popularity became so great that the Mariners' Museum in Rhode Island opened a wing devoted to his works in 1975. Queen Elizabeth II, Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson, and the Sultan of Morocco all owned paintings by Dawson. His yacht paintings were also eagerly collected by the Vanderbilts and Sopwiths. At the height of his career, it is believed he was the second-highest paid living artist in the world - second only to Pablo Picasso. Dawson continued to paint with dedication until he died in 1973, but his legacy lives on in his unparalleled oeuvre.

M.S. Rau Antiques is proud to offer important compositions by this maritime master. To view our current collection of marine paintings, click here.

About M.S. Rau Antiques:
M.S. Rau Antiques has spent over 100 years earning the trust of discerning collectors worldwide. Located in the heart of New Orleans’ historic French Quarter, our peerless showroom houses one of the world’s most extensive and stunning collections of museum-quality fine art by artists such as Claude Monet and William Bouguereau, 18th- and 19th-century antiques, and breathtaking jewelry, including rare colored diamonds.

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Beauty, Rarity, History: The M.S. Rau Blog

A New Orleans institution for over 100 years, M.S. Rau is among the premier fine art and antiques galleries in the world. Located in the heart of the French Quarter, our gallery overflows with incredible antiques by names including Tiffany & Co., Paul Revere and Fabergé. Our unparalleled selection of important, original paintings and sculpture spans the 16th through the 21st century, including legendary artists such as Brueghel, Monet and Rockwell, while our diverse selection of exquisite jewels, including rare colored diamonds, Kashmir sapphires and Burma rubies is without equal.

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