George Dawe
George Dawe was an English portraitist who painted 329 portraits of Russian generals active during Napoleon's invasion of Russia for the Military Gallery
Military Gallery
The Military Gallery is a gallery of the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The gallery is a setting for 332 portraits of generals who took part in the Patriotic War of 1812...

 of the Winter Palace
Winter Palace
The Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg, Russia, was, from 1732 to 1917, the official residence of the Russian monarchs. Situated between the Palace Embankment and the Palace Square, adjacent to the site of Peter the Great's original Winter Palace, the present and fourth Winter Palace was built and...

. He relocated to Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg is a city and a federal subject of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea...

 in 1819, where he won acclaim for his work from the artistic establishment and complimentary verses by Pushkin.

He was the son of Philip Dawe
Philip Dawe
Philip Dawe was an English mezzotint engraver, artist and political cartoonist who is thought to have been born in the 1730s, the son of a city merchant in London. He died 13 August 1832 in Kentish Town, London...

, a successful mezzotint
Mezzotint is a printmaking process of the intaglio family, technically a drypoint method. It was the first tonal method to be used, enabling half-tones to be produced without using line- or dot-based techniques like hatching, cross-hatching or stipple...

 engraver who also produced political cartoons relating to the events of the Boston Tea Party
Boston Tea Party
The Boston Tea Party was a direct action by colonists in Boston, a town in the British colony of Massachusetts, against the British government and the monopolistic East India Company that controlled all the tea imported into the colonies...


One of his brothers was Henry Edward Dawe, also a portraitist.

Early life and later career

George Dawe was born on 6 February 1781 to Philip Dawe
Philip Dawe
Philip Dawe was an English mezzotint engraver, artist and political cartoonist who is thought to have been born in the 1730s, the son of a city merchant in London. He died 13 August 1832 in Kentish Town, London...

 and Jane in Brewer Street, in the parish of St James's. Philip was an artist and engraver in mezzotint who had worked with Hogarth
William Hogarth
William Hogarth was an English painter, printmaker, pictorial satirist, social critic and editorial cartoonist who has been credited with pioneering western sequential art. His work ranged from realistic portraiture to comic strip-like series of pictures called "modern moral subjects"...

 and Turner and he also produced satirical political cartoons about life in America which are still highly regarded today. George was the first child born to the couple and there would be other successful artists in the family.

Dawe was baptised on 25 February 1781 at St James’ Church in Piccadilly
Piccadilly is a major street in central London, running from Hyde Park Corner in the west to Piccadilly Circus in the east. It is completely within the city of Westminster. The street is part of the A4 road, London's second most important western artery. St...

. He would later become one of the most successful artists of his generation and an international celebrity of considerable fame and wealth. Although he is not well known today, it is less than 180 years since he became the First Portrait Painter of the Imperial Court in Russia.

Dawe originally trained with his father as an engraver and became very accomplished from an early age. He later became mainly interested in painting and went on to study at the Royal Academy of Arts. He was elected an associate member of the Royal Academy in 1809 and became an Academician in 1814.

He collected old masters and studied modern and classical languages, philosophy and literature. He also studied anatomy as part of his pursuit of a better understanding of the human form and also undertook human dissections in his own home as well as attending operations to improve his knowledge of the human body.

His painting of classical subjects won much praise and were the making of his early reputation but he was more interested in financial success and sought portraiture commissions which were lucrative and which brought him into contact with high society. However, the direct way in which he promoted his own work was not approved of by artistic society and brought considerable criticism from his contemporaries, one of whom was Constable
John Constable
John Constable was an English Romantic painter. Born in Suffolk, he is known principally for his landscape paintings of Dedham Vale, the area surrounding his home—now known as "Constable Country"—which he invested with an intensity of affection...

, who painted a background for a Dawe portrait on at least one occasion.

He enjoyed the patronage of the Duke and Duchess of Kent
Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld
Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld was the mother of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom.-Early life:...

 and also that of Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold
Leopold I of Belgium
Leopold I was from 21 July 1831 the first King of the Belgians, following Belgium's independence from the Netherlands. He was the founder of the Belgian line of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha...

. In 1819 he travelled with the Duke of Kent through Europe. On this tour his painting of portraits of military staff and diplomats brought him to the attention of Alexander I
Alexander I of Russia
Alexander I of Russia , served as Emperor of Russia from 23 March 1801 to 1 December 1825 and the first Russian King of Poland from 1815 to 1825. He was also the first Russian Grand Duke of Finland and Lithuania....

 who commissioned him to paint the portraits of senior Russian military staff who had successfully fought Napoleon. He went to live in St Petersburg in 1819 and over the next nine years he painted over 300 portraits for the military collection.

He became an international celebrity throughout Europe and mixed with the Russian intellectual elite. Among others he met and knew were Pushkin who wrote a poem about him entitled "To Dawe Esq." In 1826 Nicholas I
Nicholas I of Russia
Nicholas I , was the Emperor of Russia from 1825 until 1855, known as one of the most reactionary of the Russian monarchs. On the eve of his death, the Russian Empire reached its historical zenith spanning over 20 million square kilometers...

 invited him to his coronation ceremony and in 1828 he was officially appointed as First Portrait Painter of the Imperial Court.

He returned to England in 1828 and stayed for several months. During this time he exhibited many of his recent works and George IV
George IV of the United Kingdom
George IV was the King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and also of Hanover from the death of his father, George III, on 29 January 1820 until his own death ten years later...

 was among those to whom they were privately shown.

He returned to St Petersburg in 1829 but soon became increasingly unwell with breathing difficulties following a serious cold. He had had pulmonary weakness throughout life following childhood illness. He returned to London in August 1829 and died on 15 October at the home of his brother-in-law, Thomas Wright, a celebrated engraver. He was buried in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral and his funeral was attended by many artists and officials from the Russian embassy.

The significant body of work created in Russia is currently housed in the military gallery in the Hermitage Museum
Hermitage Museum
The State Hermitage is a museum of art and culture in Saint Petersburg, Russia. One of the largest and oldest museums of the world, it was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and has been opened to the public since 1852. Its collections, of which only a small part is on permanent display,...

 in St Petersburg. Many of his paintings are also included in the Royal Collection
Royal Collection
The Royal Collection is the art collection of the British Royal Family. It is property of the monarch as sovereign, but is held in trust for her successors and the nation. It contains over 7,000 paintings, 40,000 watercolours and drawings, and about 150,000 old master prints, as well as historical...

of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Despite the international celebrity which he enjoyed in his own lifetime it is perhaps surprising that his popularity has not proved enduring in his home country of England, although in Russia he is still well-known and held in high regard.

External links

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