Dawson-Watson, Dawson (1864–1939)

By: Cecilia Steinfeldt

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: June 22, 2019

Dawson Dawson-Watson, landscape artist, son of John and Jane (Edmondson) Dawson-Watson, was born on July 21, 1864, in London, England. His father was a popular illustrator. During childhood in St. John's Wood where his family lived, young Dawson became familiar with artists, actors, and men of letters. At age eight he was enrolled in the Diocesan Grammar School in Southsea, England, where he progressed rapidly in art. After returning home to continue his studies, he studied with Mark Fisher, an American artist living in England. When his family moved to Wales, Dawson-Watson first spent six months with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, then returned to his art studies. His talent attracted the attention of Henry Boddington, who sent him to study in Paris with a small allowance. There he spent three years working under a number of artists including Carolus-Duran, portraitist, Aimé Morot and Léon Glaize, historical painters, and Luc Olivier-Merson and Raphaël Collin, decorators. With these mentors Dawson-Watson mastered a variety of media and skills. In spite of strictures on his allowance if he married, he met and on May 30, 1888, married Mary Hoyt Sellar, an American traveling in France with the Houston artist Emma Richardson Cherry. The couple went to Giverny, France, where they joined the American art colony and remained five years, until James Carroll Beckwith, an American artist, urged them to go to the United States. Within two weeks the Dawson-Watsons had moved to America. When they landed in New York in 1893, they had twenty-five dollars. Dawson-Watson painted enough pictures to enable them to move to Boston. From Boston they went to Hartford, Connecticut, where he directed the Hartford Art Society for four years. Then, having inherited a small sum of money, he returned to England, but found it difficult to earn a living. After reading of an art-school vacancy in Canada, he sold everything in England and went to Canada to apply, but failed to find the school. Still, he remained in Canada for three years, until an American artist, Birge Harrison, told him about a new artists' colony being established in the Catskills. He journeyed to New York and began teaching at Byrdcliffe in Woodstock. In 1904 he moved to St. Louis to accept a teaching position at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts at Washington University, where he remained the succeeding eleven years while spending the summers on sketching trips to Massachusetts.

After leaving his university position in 1915, Dawson-Watson began to divide his time between San Antonio, Texas, and St. Louis. He served as art director of the Missouri Centennial and the St. Louis Industrial Exhibition in 1920 and worked in theater design in St. Louis from 1920 to 1923. In 1918 and 1919 he also served as director of the San Antonio Art Guild and eventually was attracted to San Antonio as a permanent resident at the urging of Rolla Taylor, a San Antonio artist, and of Mrs. H. P. Drought and Mrs. John Herff, San Antonio art patrons, all of whom wanted him to enter the Edgar B. Davis Texas Wildflower competitions. In 1926 he made a $500 painting sale in Boston, left for San Antonio, and began to concentrate on painting Texas landscapes, particularly scenes with cacti. He painted seventy different canvases of cacti before completing the painting he entered. The following year, 1927, in the first Davis Competition, he won the $5,000 national award for his painting Glory of the Morning, a study of cacti. Two years later he was awarded both first and fifth prizes in the competitions. Dawson-Watson had numerous exhibitions in San Antonio, including three solo exhibitions at the Witte Museum (1928, 1932, and 1935). In 1934 he was one of eight local artists commissioned by the Civil Works Administration to execute murals in San Antonio. His canvas Meditation was installed in Jefferson Senior High School. A three-panel painting, The Open Book of Nature, was installed in the Wichita, Kansas, high school. Some of his easel paintings remain in the frames he hand-carved for them. He was a man of compassion as well as style, as demonstrated by his offering generous support to his adopted city when San Antonio suffered a devastating flood in 1921 and to the Witte Museum when it suffered a severe financial crisis in 1933. Dawson-Watson's work won prizes throughout the nation—in Portland, Oregon (1905), in Sedalia, Missouri, at the Illinois State Fair (1916), at the Texas State Fair in Austin (1926), and from the Nashville Art Association (1927), the Mississippi Art Association, and the Southern States Art League (1931). He was a member of numerous art organizations. He exhibited in the Paris Salon and the Exposition Universelle in Paris, at the Royal Academy, London, the Royal Canadian Academy, and the Royal Cambrian Academy, and in many exhibitions in this country. He is represented in permanent collections in St. Louis, Missouri, Springfield, Illinois, New Haven, Connecticut, Wichita, Kansas, New York City, Chicago, Oakland, California, the Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery at the University of Texas at Austin, the San Antonio Art League, the San Antonio Museum of Art, and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library at the Alamo. Though he is known to the public primarily for his cactus paintings, art historians recognize him as an important direct American link to French Impressionism. Dawson-Watson died in San Antonio on September 3, 1939, survived by his wife, a son, and a daughter.

Cecilia Steinfeldt, Art for History's Sake: The Texas Collection of the Witte Museum (Austin: Texas State Historical Association for the Witte Museum of the San Antonio Museum Association, 1993). Who Was Who in America, Vol. 1.

  • Peoples
  • English
  • Visual Arts
  • Painting

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Cecilia Steinfeldt, “Dawson-Watson, Dawson,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 30, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/dawson-watson-dawson.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 22, 2019