Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Dartmouth from St Petrox Churchyard, 1852 1853

Henry Dawson 

Dartmouth from St Petrox Churchyard, 1852, Henry Dawson
Oil on canvas
33 x 48 inches 83.8 x 121.9 cm
Alfred Dawson Henry Dawson Landscape Painter (1891) listed among the works completed in 1852.
British Institution 1853 fio.463 Sold for 85.
Dartmouth was a frequent subject for landscape artists in search of the picturesque in the early and mid-nineteenth centuries. The naturally-composed prospect from the town towards the mouth of the River Dart, where the opening of the channel is flanked by the twin castles of Dartmouth and Kingswear was often depicted, but the view that Dawson takes is unusual. To paint this prospect of the town he must have placed himself on the wall of the graveyard of St Petrox Church, with Dartmouth Castle on its headland directly behind him. The effect of this alternative view is considerable. Instead of repeating an often-shown view to conventional effect, Dawson gives us a glimpse of a prosperous town with its busy harbour.

The historic importance of Dartmouth as a harbour and port was understood early in English history, and from .1510 the channel in from the sea was defended by twinned forts on the opposing headlands. Still visible to this day are the anchoring holes in the rock below each that secured a set of chains that were drawn across the river to close it each night in time of war. Even in peacetime, as this painting shows, the Dartmouth side of the River remained a defensive position. The shot store prominent in the left foreground serves the Napoleonic artillery battery that was built beside the Tudor castle, and which a decade after the painting of this picture, would be upgraded to a Talmerstone Battery'', built to take large cannon with a range of up to two mile which took their popular name from the Prime Minister who championed this upgrading of Britain''s coastal defences. In the 1860s Dartmouth would also become the home to the Royal Navy's training ship HMS Britannia, the forerunner of the Britannia Royal Naval College. When in 1905 the Navy decided to build a permanent, dry-land establishment they acquired the Mount Boone estate from the Raleigh family, descendants of Sir Walter, occupied in 1852 by the large red brick house is visible on the hillside above the church in the centre of the painting.

During the same excursion from his home in Croydon in 1852 Dawson painted a view of Plymouth, and it is with maritime and coastal subjects that he was particularly successful. A nostalgic study of warships The Wooden Walls of Old England exhibited in the same year as the present picture, sold for 75 in 1853, sold again at Christie's in 1,400, by which time Dawson''s talents had finally been full appreciated by the market. Until 1835 Dawson had been employed in a lace-making factory, and had only begun his career as a professional painter by his own determination, and remarkably, by his own instruction, since he was very largely self-taught. His reputation was highest in his lifetime in the north and the midlands, in Nottingham where he lived for much of the early part of his life, and among the patrons of cities such as Liverpool and Birmingham, where buyers recognised his abilities sooner than those in the capital. It was not until the last decade of his life, when Dawson was able to sell his pictures for over a thousand pounds each that he began to receive rewards appropriate to his talent. Then finally connoisseurs affirmed the steady loyalty of provinicial patrons, and acknowledged the remarkable grasp of broad-brush atmospherics, sweeping landscape and genre detail that are all so apparent in this painting.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.