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Painting of battle between British and American warships for auction at Bonhams

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Bonhams is selling a painting of the epic fight between H.M.S. Shannon and the U.S.S. Chesapeake during the Anglo-American War of 1812-14 – one of the most renowned naval encounters of the nineteenth century and arguably the quickest and most decisive frigate action ever fought.

This oil painting by John Steven Dews (British, born 1949), titled ‘Don’t give up the ship – Action between Chesapeake and Shannon off Boston 19th May 1813′ is estimated to sell for £60,000-80,000 at Bonhams Marine sale on 24 April 2013 in London. In this magnificent picture, Steven Dews has celebrated the bi-centenary of the battle.

Captain Philip Broke, in command of H.M.S. Shannon, had come upon the Chesapeake refitting in Boston Harbor and promptly challenged her to come out and fight. At about noon on 1st June 1813, Captain James Lawrence brought Chesapeake out into the open sea and after a furious annihilating action lasting just fifteen minutes, was forced to surrender.

After first firing two devastating broadsides, Broke led his boarding party onto Chesapeake but was so badly wounded that he had to relinquish his command. Casualties on both sides were extraordinarily high – 48 Americans, including Captain Lawrence, were killed and 96 wounded whilst Shannon suffered only slightly less with 33 dead and 50 wounded.

Despite his injuries, Captain Broke survived to be rewarded with a baronetcy and enduring fame, although he never recovered sufficiently to be able to return to active service.

Steven Dews was born in Beverley, North Humberside in 1949. His start in the art world was not auspicious as he failed his art ‘A’ level and was told that fame usually comes only after an artist has died. Despite this tough beginning he has risen to become Britain’s most sought-after living marine artist. His reputation is internationally recognized and his commissions will keep him busy for years to come.

Steven Dews can remember drawing his first picture of a boat aged about five when he and his two brothers visited their grandfather, who was then Assistant harbourmaster 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.

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.

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. 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. ‘There is no escape from reality on a boat’, Steven says, ‘the sea is a great equalizer of all men’.

His pictures also formed a major one-man touring fund-raising exhibition opened by H.R.H. 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 Harbor 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.

December 10, 2012 |

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