Born in Chiswick, London, Dawson was the son and grandson of marine artists and he grew up to become perhaps the greatest marine artist of all time. Indeed, so successful was he that, at his peak, he was rumoured to be one of the two best-paid artists in the world, second only to Picasso.
Early in his life he and his family moved to Smugglers House on Southampton Water and, naturally enough, the young boy was greatly influenced by the deeply nautical atmosphere of his surroundings. Although Dawson never went to art school, he inherited a flair for painting and in about 1910 joined a commercial art studio in London, where he worked on posters and illustrations.
At the outbreak of the First World War he joined the Royal Navy and it was during his service as a naval officer that he met Charles Napier Hemy, who was to have a profound effect on the young man’s art. During the war, Dawson continued his artistic work by supplying the Sphere publication with illustrations. These were normally in monochrome. After the First World War he set up as a painter and illustrator, concentrating on historical subjects and portraits of deep water sailing ships, usually in a stiff breeze and a high sea. It was in the 1920s that he became contracted to Frost and Reed. With them he became “king of the clipper-ship school”.
From the early 1930s he lived at Milford-on-Sea in Hampshire and he exhibited occasionally at the Royal Academy between 1916 and 1936. In the Second World War he again worked for the Sphere, supplying them with pictures of events of the war. He exhibited regularly at the Society of Marine Artists’ exhibitions between 1946 and 1964 and was an elected member. He was also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
Montague Dawson died in Sussex, Southern England on 21st May, 1973