George Haydock Dodgson, OWS (1811-1880) George Haydock Dodgson was a successful and popular landscape painter and illustrator of the mid nineteenth century. He distinguished his work from that of his contemporaries through technical experimentation, being ‘one of the first water - colour painters to make full use ... of a wet method, dropping spots of pure colour ... on very damp paper, blending broken tints together and wiping out touches, in an attempt to obtain a suggestive effect and atmospheric values’ (Martin Hardie, Water-Colour Painting in Britain, III The Victorian Period, London: B T Batsford, 1971, page 160). Considered as one of a group of ‘searchers after idealized truth’ (by an obituarist in The Art Journal in 1880), Dodgson produced a range of subjects from fêtes-champêtres and other scenes with figures in historic dress to English and Welsh topographical subjects, sometimes with an architectural emphasis. He so often included his favourite genus of tree, the Beech, in his paintings that a specimen at his sketching ground at Knole, in Kent, became known as Dodgson’s beech.
George Haydock Dodgson was born at 38 Castle Street, Liverpool, on 16 August 1811, the eighth of fifteen children of the linen draper, Pearson Dodgson, and his wife, Hannah (née Haydock).
Like all his brothers, he attended the academy that was set up by Richard Prior at 4 Church Lane, St Peter’s, and which, in 1818, moved to 37 Pembroke Place. (Prior’s daughter, Marian, would marry George’s elder brother, Pearson Dodgson junior.) His first drawing master was Andrew Hunt, who ran the Artists’ Repository in Bold Street. (Hunt was father of the landscape painter, Alfred William Hunt.)
On 1 July 1826, Dodgson was apprenticed to Jonathan Bennison, a surveyor with an office at 3 Tithebarn Street. He remained with him for the full seven years, completing his indenture on 1 July 1831. It may have been while he was with Bennison that he met the railway engineer, George Stephenson, who was working on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, which opened in 1830. Certainly, he worked with Stephenson as a surveyor and draughtsman on the Whitby and Pickering Railway, which opened in 1836. It was probably while he was in Whitby that he first met George Weatherill, who was producing watercolours in his spare time. An obituarist, writing in The Athenaeum in 1880, detailed Dodgson’s conscientious approach to his work for Stephenson, noting that, in order to complete the plans, he and his colleagues ‘kept themselves awake through many nights by eating opium and drinking strong black coffee’. This exertion took its toll and, when his health began to suffer, he abandoned engineering for art.
Following a sketching tour of Wales, Cumberland and Yorkshire in 1835, Dodgson moved to London, living first in Lambeth: at 7 Bridge Road (now Westminster Bridge Road) in 1835, then at 14 Palace Road in 1836. While still preparing some drawings for Stephenson, he worked increasingly as a freelance artist, producing detailed watercolours of landscapes and buildings that he first exhibited at the Society of British Artists (1835-39). While he was at the latter address, some of his drawings for Stephenson appeared as Illustrations of the Scenery on the Line of the Whitby and Pickering Railway, in the North Eastern Part of Yorkshire, from Drawings by G Dodgson, with a short Description of the District and Undertaking by Henry Belcher (1836).
In 1837, Dodgson moved north of the river to Gower Street North (now the very north end of Gower Street), living at No 8 (1837) and then No 2 (1839). He began to exhibit at the Royal Academy (1838-50) and completed his contributions to Thomas Roscoe’s The London and Birmingham Railway (1839) (a project in which Thomas Creswick was also involved). However, he was still anxious about money – writing a letter to his parents on the subject in 1839 – possibly because he was preparing to wed. He married Jane Sims, daughter of George Sims, clerk of the Mercers’ Company, on 30 September 1839, and they settled at 21 Mornington Place, near Regent’s Park. Together they had three children, Jennie (1841-1899), George Pearson (1842-1928), and Jessie (1854-1911), of whom the two youngest became artists.
From the early 1840s, Dodgson turned more from architecture to landscape, which he exhibited at a wider range of venues, both in London and the provinces, especially in his native Liverpool, including the Liverpool Academy and the Liverpool Society of Fine Arts. He was elected an associate of the New Society of Painters in Water Colours in London in 1842, and a full member in 1844, exhibiting 48 works before he resigned in 1847 in order to transfer his allegiance to the ‘Old’ Society of Painters in Water Colours. He was elected an associate of the latter in 1848 (with Edward Duncan and F W Topsham) and a member in 1852, showing a total of 353 works right up until his death in 1880.
In parallel to his work as a painter, Dodgson continued to produce illustrations, contributing to such periodicals as the Cambridge University Almanack (1840-47), The Illustrated London News (1845-62) and The Art Union (1851), and such books as The Book of Celebrated Poems (1854), The Poets of the Nineteenth Century, edited by the Rev R A Willmott (1857), Lays of the Holy Land, edited by the Rev Horatius Bonar (1858), and The Home Affections Pourtrayed by the Poets, edited by Charles Mackay (1858).
In 1849, Dodgson and his family moved to 18 Mornington Road (now Mornington Terrace), around the corner from Mornington Place. From this time, he produced some of his most atmospheric paintings. He sketched on the Thames, as in 1858, when he was joined by E W Field and George Fripp, and travelled to Norfolk, the Lake District, Lancashire and Yorkshire, where, in Whitby, he strengthened his friendship with George Weatherill and his family.
Following a further move in 1861 – to 1 St Mark’s Crescent, still close to Regent’s Park – he became more prolific and produced work that was more clearly topographical. From 1875, he added the Gower Peninsula to his repertoire of subjects. However, he never travelled overseas. By 1877, he was living at 28 Clifton Hill, St John’s Wood, and it was there that he died on 4 June 1880. His daughter, Jessie, was still living with him. During the winter, the Society of Painters in Water Colours exhibited a loan collection of 52 of his works. His remaining pictures were sold at Christie’s on 25 March 1881.
His work is represented in numerous public collections, including the V&A.
Further reading Charlotte Yeldham, ‘Dodgson, George Haydock (1811-1880)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 16, pages 426-427
With acknowledgements to the researches of Hugh Dodgson, whose grandfather was a nephew of G D Hodgson.