John Steven Dews (British, b. 1949) The battle of Trafalgar – H.M.S. “Victory” breaking the enemy line and raking the stern of the French flagship as she goes through 101.6 x 167.6cm. (40 x 66in.)

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Lot 162
John Steven Dews
(British, b. 1949)
The battle of Trafalgar – H.M.S. “Victory” breaking the enemy line and raking the stern of the French flagship as she goes through 101.6 x 167.6cm. (40 x 66in.)

Sold for £ 95,200 (US$ 122,628) inc. premium
John Steven Dews (British, b. 1949)
The battle of Trafalgar – H.M.S. “Victory” breaking the enemy line and raking the stern of the French flagship as she goes through
signed 'J. Steven Dews' (lower left)
oil on canvas
101.6 x 167.6cm. (40 x 66in.)


  • Born in Beverley, North Humberside in 1949, Steven Dews has risen from a boy who failed his art 'A' level and who was told that fame usually comes only after an artist has died, to become Britain's most sought-after living marine artist. His reputation is internationally recognised and his commissions will keep him busy for years to come.
    Steven Dews can remember drawing his first picture of a boat aged about 5 when he and his two brothers would visit their grandfather, who was then Assistant Dockmaster at the Hull Docks. The boys were brought up on a tradition of the sea, the family being able to trace their nautical connections back to the seventeenth century.
    When they grew up, Steven’s two brothers both followed seafaring careers but Steven, who had been turned down by various naval institutions, settled for Hull Regional College of Art where he graduated in Technical Graphics and Illustration. He moved back to his parents and borrowed a friend’s derelict farmhouse on the northern banks of the Humber. Here, where the light, the skies and the atmosphere were perfect, Steven spent hours painting in a makeshift studio.
    He studied photographs, reference books, model ships and architectural drawings, especially noting the sea and sky in their various moods and produced hundreds of pencil sketches graduating to accurate drawings incorporating measurements.
    In 1976, his first exhibition was mounted. Virtually the whole body of work was sold on the first night and seventeen commissions were received. The following year he had an exhibition in San Francisco which sold out to large critical acclaim and heralded a secure future as an artist. As a consequence of the number of commissions gained from this exhibition, much of Steven’s work from this period was to cross the Atlantic.
    In the autumn of 1979 Steven accepted a commission from Amoco to execute twelve pictures for their 1980 calendar to reflect the development of the ocean-going vessel from Drake’s “Golden Hind” to the present day. Warned by friends that it was an impossible task to undertake in the time allowed, Steven nonetheless forged ahead, taking little time off and only sleeping three hours in the final week. He completed the job in three months.
    His pictures also formed a major one-man touring fund-raising exhibition opened by HRH The Prince of Wales in support of the excavation of the site of the ”Mary Rose”, Henry VIII’s warship. The exhibition was scheduled for twenty-four destinations around the UK including the National Maritime Museum, and closed at Amoco’s headquarters in Chicago.
    Further prestigious commissions followed, including The ”Norland” Under Attack During the Falklands' Campaign’, for North Sea Ferries and ‘The Wrecking of ”The Star of Poland” off the Coast of China’ for the San Francisco Maritime Museum. In 1985 he was commissioned by the syndicate backing Britain’s entry for the America's Cup in Perth, Australia, to execute two paintings to raise money for the challenge. In 1988, the Maritime Services Board of Australia commissioned him to paint 'The First Fleet's arrival in Botany Bay' and the Bicentennial Celebrations on Sydney Harbour which involved two trips to Australia. BP Marine and The Woolwich Building Society commissioned works for their calendars, both to be made up solely from Dews' marine subjects.
    Between commissions there was an exhibition in Dubai and, back at home, a Dews was included in a major exhibition of marine art at the Ferens Art Gallery, Hull.
    In 1995 he was asked to produce a painting to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the formation of the New York Yacht Club and in 1996 he held a sell-out exhibition of paintings in Bermuda.

    As Steven’s reputation blossomed, so did his lifelong affair with the sea. He was able to buy his first yacht and, when not painting the sea, was out sailing on it. In his studio he concentrated on the meticulous detail essential for the accuracy and realism of his painting. Always demanding perfection from his work and never satisfied with what he produced, he developed techniques to help him. He would look at an unfinished work in a mirror to see the image afresh in reverse. “The trouble is”, he comments wryly, “that the reverse image itself can become too familiar and the striving for this perfection can become obsessive”. He cannot live with his own original paintings on the wall as he says the temptation to add to them is too great. “The day I produce a painting I think can’t be improved, I will hang up my brushes”, he says.

    Frequently featured in prestigious books on the subject of marine painting and with further exhibitions scheduled, it is daunting to consider what the future holds for a man who is still only in his fifties. It is probable that the sea, to which Steven escapes whenever possible on his yacht, will always protect him from the pressures put upon him by his reputation. “There is no escape from reality on a boat”, Steven says, “the sea is a great equalizer of all men.”

    He lives and loves the subject he paints, with much of his spare time spent sailing. 'How is it possible to express the air and sea and sky without having experienced the elements, knowing how a ship works, pulled the ropes ?' he asks.

    Bibliography :- 'A Cloud of Sail', Maritime Paintings by J.Steven Dews, Louise Felstead, Swan Hill, 2001.

    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 Nelson’s 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 just after noon, almost half-an-hour before “Victory” could do the same when she was able to force herself between Villeneuve’s 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 “Victory’s” decks, one of whom would soon be Nelson himself.

    In this magnificent composition, Steven Dews has depicted “Victory” just as she breaks through the enemy line and pours her first massive port broadside into “Bucentaure’s” stern; smashing the enemy flagship’s three-tiered galleries, “Victory’s” devastating fire sweeps along the length of all three gundecks causing huge damage and heavy loss of life. On “Victory’s” starboard side, the artist has shown the enemy line stretching beyond “Redoubtable’s” stern towards “Royal Sovereign’s” duel with “Santa Ana”, whilst in the extreme right foreground, “Temeraire” prepares to open fire as she follows “Victory” into the centre of the action.
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