'The Pearl Islands' inscribed and dated June 26 1924 (on reverse) oil on canvas 30.5 x 45.7cm. (12 x 18in.)
Provenance (for this and the following lot): Research Expeditions Limited (in voluntary liquidation). Sold directly by the above to Herbert E. Julyan (£25 for 3 pictures by Montague Dawson). By descent to the present owner.
These two remarkable oils, both highly unusual works within Dawsons oeuvre, date from quite early in his career. In 1924, when still a relatively unknown artist, he was asked to join a scientific expedition to the South Seas as official artist which was being promoted by a newly-formed company called Research Expeditions Ltd. Intending to follow in the footsteps of some notable explorers of the past, including Charles Darwin, the company had purchased a steam yacht, the St. George, using money advanced by a consortium of investors including the Marchioness of Curzon and Commander Swithinbank, R.N. The latter invested £3,000 in the venture, a sizeable sum in the early 1920s, in consequence of which he retained Mr. Herbert Julyan to look after his interest for him. The St. George was fitted out to carry eight scientists and seven paying passengers, each of whom contributed £700 for their passage. The cruise was scheduled to last for 300 days and it was intended to visit and explore as many Pacific islands as time permitted. Applications for the cruise were invited through the national newspapers and the very large numbers of responses were eventually wittled down by Commander David Blair and his associate Major A.J.A. Douglas, the designated leader on land. Montague Dawson not only agreed to accompany the expedition as official artist but also to provide the proprietors of The Graphic magazine with illustrated reports of the cruise for publication.
Amongst the innumerable exotic locations visited were the Pearl Islands, a sprawling group of over 100 islands many of them tiny and uninhabited which lie in the Gulf of Panama, thirty miles off the Pacific coast of Panama. These two beach scenes, almost certainly worked up from sketches done in situ on 26th and 29th June 1924, seem to be different perspectives of the same spot, one taken from the sea and the other looking along the shoreline. Both views and a third one no longer present were acquired by Herbert Julyan for £25 from the assets of Research Expeditions Ltd. when the company went into voluntary liquidation in 1927. The third painting was disposed of by auction in 1967 whilst the two offered here have remained in the hands of Mr. Julyans descendents until now. This expedition was undoubtedly a fascinating episode in Montague Dawsons life and the two paintings presented here are a fitting memento of a remarkable journey which gave him the inspiration for many future pictures of the Spanish Main and its pirate inhabitants.
The iron steam yacht St.George was a large auxiliary schooner built by Ramage & Ferguson at Leith in 1890. Registered at 694½ tons gross (871 Thames), she measured 191 feet in length with a 32 foot beam and was powered by one of her builders own engines. Originally owned by Mr. E.J. Wythes of Bickley Park, Kent, by 1924 she was owned by Research Expeditions Ltd. (Major A.J.A. Douglas, Managing Owner) which had purchased her with money provided by various sponsors. In his memoir Sixty Years of Yachts, H.E. Julyan states that, after the South Sea Island cruise was over, the St. George was broken up: not because she was unsound but because she cost too much to run. The yacht that was valued at £23,000 we sold for £900.