An oil sketch for the picture commissioned by the Cavalry Club in 1913. Dollman’s study for the figure of Oates walking to his death in a blizzard, on or around his 32nd birthday on 16-17 March 1912. The figure in this sketch more clearly seen than in the finished picture, where Oates is engulfed by driving snow. Dollman used a member of the expedition, in the expedition’s outfit, as a model.
The scene based on Scott’s account from his journal: ‘Friday, March 16 or Saturday 17. ? Lost track of dates, but think the last correct. Tragedy all along the line. At lunch, the day before yesterday, poor Titus Oates said he couldn't go on; he proposed we should leave him in his sleeping-bag. That we could not do, and induced him to come on, on the afternoon march. In spite of its awful nature for him he struggled on and we made a few miles. At night he was worse and we knew the end had come. Should this be found I want these facts recorded. Oates' last thoughts were of his Mother, but immediately before he took pride in thinking that his regiment would be pleased with the bold way in which he met his death. We can testify to his bravery. He has borne intense suffering for weeks without complaint, and to the very last was able and willing to discuss outside subjects. He did not -- would not -- give up hope to the very end. He was a brave soul. This was the end. He slept through the night before last, hoping not to wake; but he woke in the morning -- yesterday. It was blowing a blizzard. He said, 'I am just going outside and may be some time.' He went out into the blizzard and we have not seen him since.'
Lieutenant Colonel G.K. Ansell, Commanding Officer of the 5th Dragoon Guards, wrote to Captain Oates’s mother on 13 December 1913, with an early mention of the painting: ‘My Dear Mrs Oates, The cavalry club commissioned Dollman to paint a picture in commemoration of your son. This was finished a few days ago and has just been received at the Club. … I saw the picture a few days ago at the Artists’. I will not say any more about it than I believe it will help keep the memory of your son’s deed fresh in the minds of future generations of soldiers, in a way that by itself a written record could never do. … I hope you will allow me to take you to see it. …’
Oates’s regiment’s commanding officer, Neil Haig, remarked on the picture in a letter to Mrs Oates dated Muttra, 3 May 1914, discussing the putting together of a cuttings and photograph album in memory of Oates: ‘I hear the picture of poor Titus is in the Cav Club & that it was what you and I expected & not the sort of thing he poor fellow would have desired at all still it is there at the express wish of the majority of Cav officers …’
If Dollman’s painting may have been little to the taste of the family, the image proved popular and proliferated, with readers of the Cavalry Journal invited to purchase prints of the painting. Thomas Forman of Nottingham, the printers, owned the copyright and published a limited edition colour plate of the painting in 1913, signed and dated in pencil by the artist. The picture was reproduced in black and white in the magazine Pictures of 1914. It took on a new life after the outbreak of war in 1914, when the Boy’s Own Paper published a special colour reproduction of the painting, which they recommended ‘should find an honoured place in the den of every B.O.P. reader.’
Dollman, an English painter and illustrator, trained at the South Kensington and Royal Academy Schools and exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1870 and 1912 and produced work for the Graphic in the 1880s. He was elected a member of the Royal Watercolour Society in 1913.