Montague Dawson (British, 1890-1973) The widely celebrated Endeavour ahead of the pack in her maiden season

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Lot 85* AR
Montague Dawson
(British, 1890-1973)
The widely celebrated Endeavour ahead of the pack in her maiden season
Sold for £ 87,500 (US$ 115,145) inc. premium

The Marine Sale

12 Apr 2017, 14:00 BST

London, Knightsbridge

Lot Details
Montague Dawson (British, 1890-1973) The widely celebrated Endeavour ahead of the pack in her maiden season Montague Dawson (British, 1890-1973) The widely celebrated Endeavour ahead of the pack in her maiden season
Montague Dawson (British, 1890-1973)
The widely celebrated Endeavour ahead of the pack in her maiden season
signed 'MONTAGUE DAWSON' (lower left), bears Frost & Reed stock number '5865' (on stretcher verso)
oil on canvas
71.1 x 107cm (28 x 42 1/8in).


  • Provenance
    With Frost & Reed, London, stock no. 5865 (acquired from the artist on 23 November 1934).
    Walter Stewart, Canada.
    Thence by descent to the current owner.

    In this beautifully muted sporting work, Montague Dawson has portrayed one of the legendary J-Class yachts which dominated the sport throughout the 1930s, only two of which have somehow managed to survive until the present day. One of these two survivors is Endeavour, although her primary claim to fame is that she came as close to winning the much coveted America's Cup (in 1934) as any of her predecessors in the first eighty years of the competition. The sheer glamour of the J-Class yachts was perhaps best encapsulated by Ian Dear, the modern yachting historian, when he wrote in 1977:-

    "Only ten J-Class yachts were ever built and they raced for the America's Cup and other trophies in British and American waters for a mere eight seasons between 1930 and 1937. There have been many yachts that have been larger and still others that have been faster but no one sailing class has ever gripped the imagination of the public at large as much as the 'Js' did...... In fact the 'Js' were unique for their combination of size and speed, and for their owners and the social ambience in which they flowered and died so quickly. They dominated the yachting scene on both sides of the Atlantic for less than a decade before their fantastic cost, the death of England's 'Sailor King' and the approach of World War II banished them for ever."

    Endeavour was ordered by Mr. (later Sir) T.O.M. 'Tommy' Sopwith who, after the death of Sir Thomas Lipton in 1931, assumed the mantle of Great Britain's principal challenger for the America's Cup. An extremely wealthy aircraft manufacturer and probably the best amateur helmsman in the UK, Sopwith could afford the best yacht money could buy so he approached Charles Nicholson to design him a 'steel champion'. Laid down in Camper & Nicholson's yard at Gosport, from where she was launched in April 1934, she was quite clearly a thoroughbred from the moment she began to take shape. Registered at 126 tons gross (115 net and 205 Thames), Endeavour was fractionally under 130 feet long overall with a 22 foot beam, and rigged to carry 7,560 square feet of sail. Considered by many to be the best J-Class boat of her day, she was ready for competition just in time for the start of the 1934 Season and her maiden outing was at Harwich, traditionally the first regatta of the summer, where she won twice. It is possible that this is where Dawson has painted her - proud, triumphant and justifying all the money which had been spent on her, but this remains speculation. In all, she took part in twelve races before departing for America, won eight of them and came second in three more, and the yachting fraternity agreed that she was "the fastest and most handsome boat that Nicholson had yet designed" as she was prepared to meet her destiny across the Atlantic.

    Despite carrying the hopes of the nation with her, the America's Cup races that September proved a disappointing roller-coaster of mixed emotions. To the consternation of the crew of the defending US yacht Rainbow, Endeavour won the first two races, but thereafter had to yield to the American. Out of the six races, the fourth proved hugely controversial and left Sopwith with the feeling that he had been cheated of the victory he so richly deserved. Even after Endeavour lost the sixth and last race by a mere 55 seconds, one of the closest-ever finishes in the Cup's history, Sopwith went to his grave never fully reconciled to that bitterest of defeats in 1934. The British press and public felt the same and the somewhat mischievous expression "Britannia rules the waves, but Americans waive the rules" soon became common parlance across the land.

    When Dawson executed this portrait however, all the above was in the future. Endeavour had seemed a 'racing cert' that summer of 1934 and it seems extremely likely that the painting was commissioned by 'Tommy' Sopwith himself to commemorate his splendid new creation.

    We are grateful to Michael Naxton for his assistance with cataloguing this lot.
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  1. Rhyanon Demery
    Specialist - Marine Pictures
    Montpelier Street
    London, United Kingdom SW7 1HH
    Work +44 20 7393 3865
    FaxFax: +44 20 7393 3863
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