Rising to the desperate challenge, the crew on a ship in peril off a New Zealand coastline works to keep the sailing ship on course against massive storm-driven ocean swells. The rigging has let go in places, and a group of sailors climb the ratline up the main mast with the intent to hold together the primary rig to keep the ship off the headland. Dawson masterfully captures the dramatic danger. His innate skill at portraying high seas action combined in this instance with white-capped swells, one breaking on the ship's bow, and a wet, wind-blown atmosphere, presents an artwork that is soft in tonal variation yet universally striking.
Starting in the 1840s, Britains were encouraged to emigrate to New Zealand, and many of those who served in the military forces took the opportunity to start fresh combined with the cheaper passage rates and available land. The port of Auckland was the principle harbor of the northern island. The ocean of the "Roaring Forties" are notorious for some of the strongest westwardly winds on the planet, very useful but precarious in their power over vast expanses of ocean without land, and sudden, drastic directional shifts.
Work by the artist continues to be in great demand. Dawson's art would often hold specific identities, while others still had little to no clue as to the actual ship portrayed in the paintings, such as this example. We may confidently assume the artist has captured a specific story for this representation. First and foremost, he said that he painted for enjoyment, to live "in that moment of time" which he so expertly portrays on canvas.
Provenance: Northern Pump Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota; Minneapolis Institute of Art.
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