Charles Edward Dixon (1872 – 1934) was born in the Thameside village of Streatley, in the Royal County of Berkshire on December 8th, 1872. Thanks to his father, early on Dixon developed a taste for historical subjects, but his were always of maritime interest and usually centered on what was to be a constant source of inspiration throughout his life, the river Thames.
The young family moved to London, where the young Dixon made charming and remarkably sophisticated pen drawings of everyday Victorian life. In 1889, at the tender age of 16, Dixon exhibited his first pictures at the Royal Academy. He also exhibited with the New Watercolour Society. In 1900 he was elected a member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours.
Dixon occasionally worked in oils, though his favoured medium was watercolour. He developed a technique of executing very large pieces quite rapidly. As a young man Dixon worked as an illustrator for the Illustrated London News and Sphere as well as the Graphic. In a book called Britannia’s Bulwarks he provided watercolours for all the colour plates.
Dixon had a passion for the London maritime scene, particularly yachting subjects and the river Thames, and admired the aesthetic qualities of water and vessels of steam & sail. His landscapes depicting hay barges, smoking steamers and sailing ships unloading cargo onto steam-driven barges offer nostalgic views of the Thames estuary as it was at the end of an era.
Dixon was a great friend of Sir Thomas Lipton and sailed on five Shamrock boats that Lipton entered for the America’s Cup races to record scenes off Sandy Hook.
Dixon was also successful in the advertising world, producing hundreds of works for posters and postcards. At the turn of the century the passenger steam ship had become a regular form of transport, with more and more shipping companies offering regular services to enable travel all over the world. Further, the increasingly widespread use of colour lithography meant graphic designers explored the use of vibrant images to attract viewers, hopefully those who could afford the expensive opulence of the transatlantic liners.
Dixon’s prosperous career coincided with what is today recognised as the glorious period of Britain’s seagoing heritage, the development of British marine art. Working in the notoriously difficult medium of watercolour, Dixon produced an extensive body of quality works, all exhibiting masterly, never laboured, draughtsmanship and artistic flair. Historian Stuart Boyd writes of Dixon’s talent: “Thus his depiction of Thames lightermen standing on the stern of a large, heavily laden barge being guided by a long sweep down the river, are delivered by a few brief strokes, the equivalent of the lightermen’s own seemingly effortless grace.”
Today Dixon’s works can be found in numerous maritime and war museums around Britain, including the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; and in various maritime museums throughout the world.