CANVASES, CARATS AND CURIOSITIES

John Steven Dews: Britain’s Preeminent Marine Painter

5 minute read

Famed for his spectacular maritime paintings, John Steven Dews is one of the most successful living maritime artists in the world. Dews’ work continues to grow in critical acclaim and desirability by curators, private collectors and art historians alike.
Battle of Trafalgar by John Steven Dews

Battle of Trafalgar by John Steven Dews

Early Life

Once the boy who failed art class, Dews’ work is now placed at the pinnacle of marine art. Born in Yorkshire in 1949, Dews recalls drawing his first picture of a boat at five years old. Raised surrounded by seafaring traditions, Dews and his two brothers often visited their grandfather, then the Assistant Dockmaster at the Port of Hull, spending time at the docks. Nautical traditions run deep in Dews’ family heritage, tracing their maritime connections back to the 17th century. John Steven Dews’ two brothers eventually grew up to follow in their ancestors’ seafaring career footsteps; however, he himself was turned down by numerous naval institutions. Dews instead attended Hull Regional College of Art, where he graduated in Technical Graphics and Illustration.
America’s Cup II by John Steven Dews

America’s Cup II by John Steven Dews

Burgeoning Artist

After graduating and returning to his childhood home, he moved into a family friend’s derelict farmhouse on the northern banks of the Humber Estuary. Here, Dews created a makeshift studio, turning to art to express his love for the sea. The light, skies and waterside atmosphere were sublime for rendering his stirring and lifelike canvases. He studied photographs, reference books, model ships and architectural drawings, especially noting the sea and sky in their various moods, while also producing hundreds of pencil sketches, becoming a skilled draughtsman. He amassed a sizable portfolio during these years, mounting his first exhibition in 1976. Virtually every painting in his entire collection sold out on the first night of this show. Yet another exhibition of Dews’ work was held the following year in San Francisco — which also completely sold out, solidifying his first success. Ever since his blockbuster opening, Dews has enjoyed remarkable success and critical acclaim, showing at galleries worldwide and earning numerous prestigious commissions and awards.
The Capture of USS Chesapeake by John Steven Dews

The Capture of USS Chesapeake by John Steven Dews

Maritime Master

In the autumn of 1979, Dews accepted a commission from Amoco to execute 12 canvases for their 1980 calendar reflecting 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, he nonetheless forged ahead, taking little time off and only sleeping three hours in the final week. He completed the job in three months. As his oeuvre grew, he formed a major touring fundraiser one-man exhibition opened by Charles Windsor, Prince of Wales, supporting the excavation of Henry VIII’s warship, the Mary Rose. The exhibition was scheduled for 24 destinations around the United Kingdom, including the National Maritime Museum, closing 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. has been commissioned by patrons worldwide to create portraits of their yachts; he is often booked several years in advance due to the immense demand. In 1988, the Marine Board of New South Wales commissioned Dews to render the incredible maritime re-enactments for Australia’s Bicentenary celebrations. The New York Yacht club selected Dews in 1994 to paint their stunning 150th Birthday Regatta sailing in Newport, Rhode Island. Dews was further commissioned by the Royal Yacht Squadron to complete a painted record of the 2001 America’s Cup Jubilee Regatta, and they have continued to commission him for their 200-year celebrations. Well known for his dramatic America’s Cup paintings, Dews was commissioned to paint all of the America’s Cup regattas. Dews’ monumental canvas The Battle of Trafalgar reached a new world record price at auction on Bond Street, London in the summer of 2005, culling over £95,000 (approximately $170,000). This incredible record sale was the highlight of a day-long sale to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Nelson’s great victory at Trafalgar. The original painting is one of the largest the artist has ever created and took seven years from commission to final completion. It has also been published by Rosenstiel’s as a limited-edition print in seven formats across both paper and canvas. Values for Dews’ canvasses have only continued to grow since the historic sale.
Velsheda Beating to Windward by John Steven Dews

Velsheda Beating to Windward by John Steven Dews

An experienced yachtsman himself, Dews’ immense knowledge of sailing and ardor for the sea is reflected in the atmospheric compositions and detail of his paintings. The maritime master's legendary eye for detail permeates every one of his canvases, from the precise rendering of the riggings to the dynamic movement of the waves and sea. The artist’s mastery of technique in capturing wind, waves and the expansive sky has elevated his work to become highly prized. The wide acclaim Dews received from these prestigious commissions is echoed in the remarkable prices achieved for his works in auction, which exceed most living artists’ in recorded history.

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