This hauntingly beautiful and quite unique view of one of history's most famous ships is so untypical of Dawson's work as to be truly remarkable. Despite his subject being the archetypal sailing ship-of-war, the whole composition positively exudes peace and grace as Dawson's masterly hand shows this celebrated vessel just as she is emerging from the shimmering heat haze of early morning on a high summer's day. With hardly a breath of wind in the air, Victory's sails hang loose from their yards as she tries to make a little headway in an otherwise flat calm, and the ship herself appears almost spectre-like in the brilliant glare of the sun. The impression of timeless elegance is extraordinary, and the dreamlike image of the ship unforgettable in its serene simplicity. Nothing remotely like it is recorded in any of the standard compilations of Dawson's work and its undoubted rarity and charm make it a work of considerable significance to students of this consummate artist.
The oldest warship in the world still in commission and arguably the most famous vessel in the long history of the Royal Navy, H.M.S. Victory was already forty years old when she and Lord Nelson assumed their mantle of immortality at the battle of Trafalgar.
Ordered to a design by Surveyor Slade, Victory's keel was laid in Chatham Dockyard on 2nd July 1759 and she was launched on 7th May 1765. The classic 100-gun ship, she was measured at 2,162 tons and was 186 feet in length with a 52 foot beam. Despite her size, she soon achieved a reputation for sailing as fast as a more sprightly two-decker and this quality, along with her well-seasoned frame thanks to fully six years on the stocks, helps to explain her long sea-going career and her frequent employment as a flagship. Widely regarded as the finest ship in the fleet, it was hardly surprising that Nelson should have chosen her to carry his flag in the long hunt for the Franco-Spanish battle fleet which he finally brought to action off Cape Trafalgar on 21st October 1805. As flagship however, she proved a prime target for the enemy gunners and even though she emerged victorious from the battle, she was severely damaged and could only limp into Gibraltar for temporary repairs with the greatest difficulty. Eventually making Portsmouth on 5th December, she was thoroughly repaired and, to an extent, rebuilt so as to reflect recent developments in design, with the result that when she eventually returned to sea in 1808, she found herself reduced to a 98-gun Second Rate. In 1824 she was made harbour flag and receiving ship at Portsmouth where, for almost the next century, she remained at her moorings until, in 1921, having been afloat for over one hundred and fifty years, her timbers were found to be rotting and a successful campaign was mounted to preserve her in the drydock which still accommodates her.