Montague Dawson, RSMA, FRSA

(1890 - 1973)

Isolation: The Mayflower becalmed on a moonlight night

Signed, lower left: MONTAGUE DAWSON 
Oil on canvas
40 x 50 in – 101.6 x 127 cm
Frame size
47½ x 57½ in – 120.6 x 146 cm 

Tel.: +44 (0)20 7839 7693


Frost & Reed, London, 1970;
Private collection, UK;
MacConnal-Mason Gallery, London;
Private collection, UK 
The ‘Mayflower’s’ voyage to the New World is undoubtedly one of the most iconic in Maritime history; by placing her famous silhouette against a moonlit night sky, Dawson markedly increases the sense of significance in this powerfully atmospheric work. Her exact dimensions are unknown but she was likely to have been approximately 100 feet in length and twenty-five foot abeam, with a beakhead bow and a square aft-castle. This was a fairly standard 17th century design but while it provided some protection from the elements it slowed Mayflower’s progress into the prevailing westerly winds of the North Atlantic; consequently she took two months to reach America, but less than half that time on her return journey in 1621. It is thought she carried around 100 passengers and thirty crew, led by Master Christopher Jones (1570-1622). She initially disembarked in July 1620, probably from Blackwall or Wapping and was due to sail with the ‘Speedwell’, a Dutch ship carrying separatist Puritans from Holland. The latter vessel proved far from seaworthy however and despite numerous attempts at repair, abandoned the journey at Plymouth. This delay cost the Mayflower dearly, both in terms of vital provisions, but also, more importantly, time and meant she did not depart until September when conditions in the Atlantic become far more perilous. Near constant gales tested the ship’s company to the limit. At one point all hands had to assist when a main timber support broke and had to be repaired with materials intended for house building. Viriginia was the intended landing point but their epic voyage finally came to an end on November 11, as they dropped anchor off Cape Cod.


Montague Dawson was born in London, the son of a sea captain. His grandfather was the successful Midlands landscape painter, Henry Dawson (1811-1878) who had himself moved to Chiswick. Montague Dawson studied under the marine painter Charles Napier Hemy (1841-1917) who, born in Newcastle, lived in London for some years before moving to Falmouth. On completing his studies, Dawson joined a commercial studio specialising in nautical illustrations.

During the Great War, Dawson served in the Royal Navy, he contributed illustrations to magazines including “The Sphere”, and having witnessed the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet in 1918, a complete issue of The Sphere was dedicated to the event. After leaving the Navy, Dawson took up painting full-time, living first in London before moving to Milford-on-Sea in Hampshire. Dawson had first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1917, a Naval subject “The Eyes of the Fleet”, and although frequently painting contemporary marine and naval compositions, his particular interest was in historical works, clipper ships and galleons. Whatever the subject, his paintings are marked by his acute attention to historical detail and his knowledge of ships and the sea. During the Second World War, Dawson worked as a war artist, portraying Royal Naval and US Navy actions.

His popularity was such that the New Mariners Museum in Newport Rhode Island opened a wing devoted to his works in 1975, and Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson owned paintings of the US Navy Frigate Constellation. A member of the Royal Society of Marine Artists and a fellow of the Royal Society of British Artists, Dawson was the foremost marine painter of the 20th century.

His works can be found in museums in: Cambridge; Edinburgh; London and Newport Rhode Island.

Dawson, RSMA, FRSA Montague