Trafalgar; Victory at noon - H.M.S. 'Victory' breaking the enemy line and raking the stern of the French flagship signed 'Montague Dawson' (lower left) oil on canvas 101.6 x 127cm. (40 x 50in.)
Throughout the long history of war at sea, the battle of Trafalgar was certainly the most complete victory of the age of sail if not the most decisive naval engagement ever fought.
After a lengthy and frustrating chase across the Atlantic Ocean and back, Lord Nelson finally confronted the Franco-Spanish fleet off Cape Trafalgar on the morning of 21st October 1805. Admiral Villeneuve, the French supreme commander, had managed to combine the Spanish fleet with his own to give him a formidable thirty-three ships-of- war against Nelsons total of twenty-seven. To compensate for this numerical imbalance, Nelson had conceived his famously unconventional battle plan to break the enemy line in two places and as soon as the opposing fleets sighted each other on the fateful morning, the British ships formed up into their two pre-arranged columns. Nelson himself led the Weather Division in H.M.S. Victory whilst his second-in-command, Vice-Admiral Collingwood, spearheaded the Leeward Division in the 100-gun Royal Sovereign. As the fleets closed for action, Royal Sovereign drew ahead and broke the line first, but it was almost half-an-hour before Victory was able to do the same when she forced herself between Villeneuves flagship Bucentaure and Captain Lucas in the Redoubtable. Close behind Victory was Téméraire and, within minutes, the four ships became embroiled in a tremendous struggle during which the 74-gun Redoubtable fought with great heroism against the two much larger British first rates. Victory pounded Redoubtable relentlessly, inflicting appalling casualties amongst the men on her decks, whereas above the carnage, the French sharpshooters stationed in the fighting tops of the masts quietly waited in turn for their opportunities to pick off men on Victorys decks, one of whom would soon be Nelson himself.
In this magnificent rendering of the most famous sea battle in history, Dawson has depicted Victory just as she breaks through the enemy line and pours her first massive port broadside into Bucentaures stern. Smashing through the enemy flagships three-tiered galleries, Victorys devastating fire sweeps along the length of all three gundecks causing immense damage and huge loss of life whilst on Victorys starboard side, the artist has shown the enemy line stretching away into the distance. The overall effect is a triumph and shows the artists skill at its consummate peak.