The son of a yachtsman, Montague Dawson grew up in Southampton surrounded by ships in the great port city. He went to sea as a young Naval officer in WWI and after the war ended, he settled down to paint full time. In the 1920's Dawson worked primarily in watercolor, painting yachting scenes like this one. He would often go out with vessels in the North Sea in this period just to observe other ships on the water and the ever changing moods of the sea.
In this period Dawson worked hard to capture accurate vessel and sea conditions while also evoking the feeling of being aboard a sailing vessel and here you can feel it- the sea spray coming up from the sides and the snap of the canvas in the sharp winds. This painting is typical of his highly detailed style in this period with great color and sky that hints at his ongoing evolution to a more dynamic and expressive style that would mark his later career.
The painting is named after an 1804 sea song/shanty by Scottish author Allan Cunningham. Cunningham's brother was a Royal Naval surgeon and his family lived near and were friends with famed Scottish poet Robert Burns. Cunningham wrote many popular songs in his lifetime along with biographies of British painters William Hogarth, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough and William Blake. It seems fitting that his song inspired Dawson's painting. An 19th century copy of the sheet music is shown in the photos for reference.
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