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This group forms the most coherent collection of Henry Dawson's work ever to be offered at auction. The pictures display the technical finesse and subtlety of colour and tone that impressed a staunch group of fellow artists and patrons who recognised Dawson's calibre in his lifetime, and have ensured a small but devoted following after his death. For much of his life Dawson failed to integrate the artistic establishment; his election as an Associate of the Royal Academy was tragically thwarted, and it was only during his last years that he achieved critical recognition. To twentieth century collectors coverage of his life and work remained scarce until a seminal centenary exhibition at Nottingham University Art Gallery in 1978, in which the present works formed the core. In recent years, the most memorable work to appear at auction was Dawson's depiction of The New Houses of Parliament, Westminster, of 1857, which was sold at Phillips, London, 28 November 2000 (£185,000).
Grouped together Dawson's paintings reflect particularly well off each other. Our pictures derive mostly from the 1850s and 1860s, when Dawson is now acknowledged to be at his best, and display subtle shifts of style and subject whilst remaining an organic whole. They begin to explain why his friend John Burton wrote: "your powers are not equaled by any living or working man". This integrity of vision was due in part to Dawson's dedication to his vocation. His income was never reliable, and its fluctuations dictated the several changes of residence that he made during his lifetime. His career can be mapped through these moves.
Dawson started work as a Nottingham lacemaker, and only began to paint full time in 1835, when his dealer Joseph Roberts engineered his first commissions. Dawson remained fond of Nottingham, and this is reflected in his many paintings portraying the environs of the town, and the river Trent. It was during this time that he first exhibited at the British Institution and the Royal Academy, but in 1844 his search for purchasers took him to Liverpool. Dawson's ability to forge a trajectory through the Liverpool Academy, and the formation of lasting friendships there amongst similar self-taught artists, is a characteristic life pattern. The supporter to whom Dawson is most indebted for posterity is the painter and marchand-amateur, James Orrock, who first saw Dawson's pictures when he had moved to Thorpe, near Chertsey, in 1857, and became acquainted with him during the 1860s. He was amazed when he visited Dawson's house and saw it as a shrine of landscape painting.
Dawson admired Turner and moved increasingly towards his sparkling and instinctive means of incorporating light during the 1860s. Dawson was always credited as being very original, a quality the conservative Art Journal warned could become eccentricity. His art in fact incorporated a wide variety of influences; early pictures imbibe the static gravitas of Wilson, whilst his cloud studies suggest an attention to Constable. His only lessons, twelve in 1838, were given by his northern peer J.B. Pyne, whose classical structures are also part of Dawson's oeuvre. Dawson's work derives its unusual tenor from their combination of ambition and care. Though he advocated Ruskin's dictum of truth to nature, he also painted vast canvases and responded to the theatre of John Martin's epic experiments. These elements can be readily perceived in the following works.