Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dawe, George

DAWE, GEORGE (1781–1829), portrait-painter and mezzotint engraver, was born in Brewer Street, Golden Square, London, on 8 Feb. 1781. His father, Philip Dawe, was a mezzotint engraver, and an intimate friend of George Morland, who was godfather to the son. When only fourteen years of age George published two plates after John Graham, ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ and ‘Elizabeth and St. John.’ In 1796 he entered the schools of the Royal Academy, where he was a diligent student, but continued to engrave in mezzotint, among his works being portraits of William Godwin and James Northcote, R.A., after Northcote; William Law, Henry, lord Melville, Captain Duff, John Gray, and David Johnston, after Raeburn; Sir Andrew Mitchell, Benjamin West, P.R.A., and the monumental group to the memory of the Marquis Cornwallis, by Bacon, which was the last plate executed by Dawe, who was then twenty-one years old. He then commenced historical painting, and in 1803 gained the gold medal at the Royal Academy by his picture of ‘Achilles rejecting the Consolations of Thetis,’ which he exhibited at the British Institution in 1806. In 1804 he sent to the Academy ‘Naomi and her Daughter,’ and in 1808 he painted a ‘Scene from Cymbeline,’ to which the directors of the British Institution awarded a premium of two hundred guineas. In 1809 he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy, and in 1811 he exhibited ‘Andromache imploring Ulysses to spare the Life of her Son,’ which was bought by Thomas Hope, for whom he painted likewise several family portraits. His ‘Negro overpowering a Buffalo’ obtained a premium at the British Institution in 1811, in which year he painted also ‘The Infant Hercules strangling the Serpent,’ and a subject from Coleridge's ‘Genevieve.’ The last important work which he sent to the Royal Academy was ‘The Mother rescuing her Child from an Eagle's Nest.’ In 1814 he was elected a Royal Academician, when he presented as his diploma work ‘The Demoniac,’ and in 1816 he painted a full-length portrait of Miss O'Neill as ‘Juliet,’ which, being too late for the Academy, was exhibited by lamplight at the artist's house, and proved a great success. Henceforward his talents were devoted to portraiture, and soon after the marriage of the Princess Charlotte with Prince Leopold in 1816 he painted several portraits of them, which were engraved and became very popular. After the death of the Princess Charlotte he went to Brussels in the suite of the Duke of Kent, and was present at the review of the allied troops at Cambray, where he painted the portrait of the Duke of Wellington. About this time he was invited by the Emperor Alexander to paint a series of portraits of all the superior officers who had been engaged in the war with Napoleon, and he went to St. Petersburg for this purpose in 1819. During the next nine years Dawe painted nearly four hundred portraits of Russian officers, besides three full-lengths of Wellington, Kutusov, and Barclay de Jolly, and an equestrian portrait of the Emperor Alexander, twenty feet in height. This wonderful collection was placed in a gallery erected for it in the Winter Palace. About the middle of 1828 Dawe returned to England, but in the autumn he left again for Berlin, where he painted the portraits of the King of Prussia and the Duke of Cumberland, and then went on to St. Petersburg. There he remained till the spring of 1829, and went in the imperial suite to Warsaw, but an attack of illness warned him to return home once more. He arrived in London at the end of August, and died at the residence of his brother-in-law, Thomas Wright, the engraver, at Kentish Town, London, 15 Oct. 1829. He was buried by the side of Fuseli in the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral. He made a large fortune by his visit to Russia—it is said as much as 100,000l.—but he lost the greater part of it by money-lending and consequent litigation, so that at the time of his death it was reduced to 25,000l.

Dawe was a painter of extraordinary industry, and his portraits are considered to be good likenesses, although not expressive of character. His portrait of the Duke of Kent, painted in 1818, is in the possession of her majesty at Buckingham Palace, and the National Portrait Gallery possesses the first portrait of the Princess Charlotte painted by him from the life, and also that of Dr. Samuel Parr. His portrait of the Emperor Nicholas of Russia was engraved by J. H. Robinson, R.A., and a head of Goethe, and ‘The Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold in a box at the Theatre,’ by Thomas Wright, his brother-in-law. Dawe wrote a ‘Life of George Morland, with Remarks on his Works,’ which was published in 1807.

[Arnold's Library of the Fine Arts, 1831, i. 9–17; Gent. Mag. 1830, i. 182; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists of the English School, 1878; Sandby's Hist. of the Royal Academy of Arts, 1862, i. 345–9; Chaloner Smith's British Mezzotinto Portraits, 1878–83, i. 148–52; Cats. of the Exhibition of the Royal Academy, 1804–18; Cats. of the Exhibition of the British Institution (Living Artists), 1806–13.]

R. E. G.