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Montague Dawson (Chiswick 1895 - Midhurst, Sussex 1973)

  • Montague Dawson - The Glorious American - The 'Constitution'
    Montague Dawson The Glorious American - The 'Constitution' Signed
    Oil on canvas
    40 x 50 in
    101.6 x 127 cm
    Full details

    BP 74

     

    MONTAGUE DAWSON, FRSA, RSMA

    Chiswick 1895 - 1973 Midhurst, Sussex

     

    The glorious American – the Constitution

     

    Signed lower left: Montague Dawson;

    titled on a label on the reverse

    Oil on canvas: 40 x 50 in / 101.6 x 127 cm

    Frame size: 46 1/2 x 56 1/2 in / 118.1 x 143.5 cm

     

    Provenance:

    Frost and Reed Ltd., London, inv. no.47588;

    The Credit Suisse Americana Collection

     

     

    Cracking on with all sail set, Montague Dawson depicts the most famous frigate of the United States’ Navy, as iconic a ship for Americans as HMS Victory is for the British. Like Victory, she is still in commission, but unlike Victory, she still sails. Adopting a low viewpoint, Dawson evokes the speed for which the US frigate was celebrated, and her boldness in carrying a press of sail in choppy weather. Parting clouds throw a halo of light around the vessel and emphasize her shimmering spread of canvas.

     

    Constitution was the third of six frigates authorized by Congress in the Naval Act of 1794 to form the basis of a new United States Navy. The USA had disbanded its Navy at the end of the War of Independence, but the French Revolutionary Wars brought new threats. Barbary pirates along the North African coast preyed on American merchant shipping. Britain’s Royal Navy boarded American merchantmen suspected of trading with France, often pressing her highly skilled sailors, while the French boarded US ships suspected of trading with Britain.

     

    Joshua Humphreys was appointed Master Constructor of the frigates. Constitution, like three of the others, carried forty-four guns, including twenty-four-pounders, heavy armament for a frigate of the period. The ships were designed to be able to overpower enemy frigates, but fast enough to escape a ship of the line. They were long on keel and narrow of beam for speed, but with exceptionally strong hulls made with live oak from the Southern United States, a dense and long-lasting wood.

     

    Constitution was built in Boston and launched from Edmund Hartt’s shipyard on 21st October 1797. She was of 2,200 tons, 175 ft in length, with a 42 ft beam. During the Quasi-War with France (1798-9) she captured the French merchant ship Niger and distinguished herself as flagship to the Mediterranean Squadron in the Barbary Wars (1803-4).

     

    Constitution’s glory days came with the War of 1812 (1812-15), declared when the USA finally ran out of patience with the Royal Navy’s harrying of American merchant shipping. The Royal Navy, which had ruled the seas since Trafalgar, got more than it bargained for from the fledgling US Navy. On 19th August 1812 Constitution sighted the 38-gun British frigate Guerriere four hundred miles south-east of Halifax, Nova Scotia. The battle lasted two hours, at the end of which the British frigate was totally dismasted and sinking. Cannon balls seemed to bounce off Constitution, earning her the soubriquet ‘Old Ironsides’ which she holds to this day. Constitution’s captain Isaac Hull took his frigate and 257 British captives into Boston, to great rejoicing, as Guerriere had been one of the most active vessels in stopping and searching American merchantmen.

     

    On 30th December 1812 Constitution, commanded by Captain William Bainbridge, engaged the 38-gun frigate HMS Java off Brazil. The British fought bravely, but Constitution’s heavy armament and superior gunnery told. Java’s Captain, Henry Lambert, was mortally wounded by one of Constitution’s sharpshooters and the dismasted Java struck her colours. (The battle is vividly recreated in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin naval saga, in The Fortune of War (1979)). This second defeat caused consternation in Britain, with questions asked in Parliament about the Royal Navy’s conduct. British honour was only restored by Captain Philip Broke of the 38-gun HMS Shannon, who challenged Captain James Lawrence of the Chesapeake, 38, to a duel off Boston on 1st June 1813, and captured the American frigate.

     

    The Constitution was scheduled for scrapping in 1830, but was saved by a public outcry led by the poet Oliver Wendell Holmes. Refitted, she served for another twenty years and circumnavigated the world in the 1840s. During the Civil War she was a training ship for the US Naval Academy and carried works of art to the 1878 Paris Exposition. Retired from active service in 1881, she was designated a museum ship in 1907. After another refit, she once again voyaged under sail for her two hundredth birthday in 1997. Today, Constitution is berthed at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston and is open to the public, a reminder of the skill and brilliance of the US Navy from the earliest days of its existence.

     

    Susan Morris

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    USS Constitution today.

     

     

     


    MONTAGUE DAWSON, FRSA, RSMA

    Chiswick 1895 - 1973 Midhurst, Sussex

     

    Montague Dawson was the son of a keen yachtsman and the grandson of the marine painter Henry Dawson (1811-1878).  Much of his childhood was spent on Southampton Water where he was able to indulge his interest in the study of ships. For a brief period around 1910 Dawson worked for a commercial art studio in London, but with the outbreak of the First World War he joined the Royal Navy.  Whilst serving with the Navy in Falmouth he met Charles Napier Hemy (1841-1917), who considerably influenced his work.  Dawson was present at the final surrender of the German Grand Fleet and many of his illustrations depicting the event were published in the Sphere.

     

    After the War, Dawson established himself as a professional marine artist, concentrating on historical subjects and portraits of deep-water sailing ships often in stiff breeze or on high seas.  During the Second World War, he was employed as a war artist and again worked for the Sphere. Dawson exhibited regularly at the Royal Society of Marine Artists, of which he became a member, from 1946 to 1964, and occasionally at the Royal Academy between 1917 and 1936.  By the 1930s he was considered one of the greatest living marine artists, whose patrons included two American Presidents, Dwight D Eisenhower and Lyndon B Johnson, as well as the British Royal Family.

     

    The work of Montague Dawson is represented in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich and the Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth.

     

Montague Dawson was the son of a keen yachtsman and the grandson of the marine painter Henry Dawson (1811-1878). Much of his childhood was spent on Southampton Water where he was able to indulge his interest in the study of ships. For a brief period around 1910 Dawsonworked for a commercial art studio in London, but with the outbreak of the First World War he joined the Royal Navy. Whilst serving with the Navy in Falmouth he met Charles Napier Hemy (1841-1917), who considerably influenced his work. Dawson was present at the final surrender of the German Grand Fleet and many of his illustrations depicting the event were published in the Sphere.


After the War, Montague Dawson established himself as a professional marine artist, concentrating on historical subjects and portraits of deep-water sailing ships often in stiff breeze or on high seas. During the Second World War, he was employed as a war artist and again worked for the Sphere. Dawson exhibited regularly at the Royal Society of Marine Artists, of which he became a member, from 1946 to 1964, and occasionally at the Royal Academy between 1917 and 1936. By the 1930s Dawson was considered one of the greatest living marine artists, whose patrons included two American Presidents, Dwight D Eisenhower and Lyndon B Johnson, as well as the British Royal Family.


The work of Montague Dawson is represented in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich and the Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth.


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