Sale 1019 Lot 23

British (1890-1973)
The Needles (Passing the Lighthouse)
oil on canvas, signed "Montague Dawson" lower left
24 x 36 inches


Catalog Essay | October 24, 2019 | Lot 23

Montague Dawson internationally recognized as the leading Marine artist of the Twentieth Century. He was the grandson of painter Henry Dawson (1811-1878). He spent much of his childhood with his father, an avid sailor, on the waters of Southampton where he learned about sailing and ships.


Dawson studied under the renowned artist Charles Napier Hemy (1841–1917) at the Royal Academy.  He met Hemy in Falmouth during the first World War when he was a member of the Royal Navy. It was during this time that he became skilled in painting naval ships. After the war, Dawson exhibited frequently at the Royal Academy and began his exclusive relationship with Frost & Reed Gallery in London. He was appointed as an official war artist during World War II, which can be seen in the following grisaille works offered.


After the War, Montague Dawson established himself as a professional marine artist. He concentrated on historical subjects and on painting sailing ships, masterfully capturing the movement of the ocean waves and wind in the sails.


The Needles, the subject of this current painting,  is a row of three stacks of chalk that rise about 30 meters out of the sea off the western extremity of the  Isle of Wight, United Kingdom, close to  Alum Bay. The  Needles Lighthouse stands at the outer, western end of the formation. Built-in 1859, it has been automated since 1994.1


The formation takes its name from a fourth needle-shaped pillar called Lot’s Wife, which collapsed in a storm in 1764.2 The remaining rocks are not at all needle-like, but the name has stuck.


The Needles were the site of a long-standing artillery battery, from the 1860s to 1954, which was eventually decommissioned. Tourists from around the world are still drawn to The Needles today as scenic boat trips that operate from Alum Bay offer close-up views of the Needles. The rocks and lighthouse have become icons of the Isle of Wight. The site is an internationally well-known sailing destination.


“Shortly before his death in 1973,” writes Ron Ranson in his 1993 monograph, “a remarkable tribute was made to Montague Dawson. He looked out of his window one day to see two fully rigged training ships, the Royalist and the Sir Winston Churchill, apparently sailing straight towards his house on the shore. At what appeared to be the very last moment, they turned about, and both ships dipped their ensigns in salute to the man who had probably done more than any other to capture the magic and majesty of sail.”3.


Dawson was an associate of the Royal Society of Artists and a member of the Royal Society of Marine Artists. His works can be viewed in museums around the world.

1 "Needles Lighthouse". Trinity House. n.d. Archived from the original on 2 May 2010. Retrieved 25 May 2010.

2 "The History of The Needles at Alum Bay". The Needles Park.

3 Ron Ranson, The Maritime Paintings of Montague Dawson, Newton Abbot, Devon, 1993, p. 15



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