Montague Dawson was born in Chiswick, London. He was the son of Henry Thomas Dawson, an engineer and a keen yachtsman, who also painted marines; and the grandson of Henry Dawson the landscape painter.
Early in his life Montague Dawson and his family moved to Smugglers House on Southampton Water, so he had every opportunity to indulge an inherent interest in ships.
Montague never went to art school, but he inherited a flair for painting. In about 1910 he joined a commercial art studio in Bedford Row, London, where he worked on posters and illustration.
At the outbreak of the First World War Dawson joined the Royal Navy and it was as a naval officer in Falmouth that he met Napier Hemy, who had a powerful influence on his work. During this time, he supplied illustrations for the publication ‘Sphere’. These were normally in monochrome. In the Second World War he again worked for the’ Sphere’, supplying them with pictures of historical events of the war.
After the First World War he set up as a painter and illustrator, concentrating on historical subjects and portraits of deep water sailing ships, usually in a stiff breeze and a high sea. It was in the 1920's that he became contracted to Messr's Frost and Reed, the art dealers, and whom from that time handled the whole output and reproduction rights. With them he became King of the "clipper ship school ".
From the early 1930's Dawson lived in Milford on Sea in Hampshire. He exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1917 - 1936, as well at exhibiting regularly at the Society of Marine Artist's exhibitions between 1946 and 1964 and was an elected member. He was also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.