Friday - 24 October 2014

Hemy’s oyster dredgers head home to Falmouth

02 May 2014Written by Alex Capon

Appearing at the latest of the twice-yearly marine sales at Bonhams Knightsbridge was a painting by Charles Napier Hemy (1841-1917) which had local connections helping bring demand.

Hauling in the Nets was typical in subject matter for the Newcastle-born artist who spent much of his career in Cornwall - two fishermen on a boat in Falmouth harbour - and demonstrated Hemy's highly rated talents at capturing the swell of the sea.

The 2ft 8in x 4ft (81cm x 1.22m) oil on canvas came from a UK private source. It was signed and dated 1886 and had similarities to his Royal Academy exhibit The Smelt Net which was painted in the same year and also showed fishermen on their boats in the foreground as well as the training ship HMS Ganges in the background.

Hemy settled in Falmouth in 1881 and, by this time, had already established a reputation for his maritime work in London - he is regarded as Falmouth's first Royal Academician.

Furthermore, this particular work had special local appeal thanks to the fact that it depicted oyster dredging by hand (which still continues in Falmouth today) and showed Pendennis Castle in the distance which stands on a headland at one side to the entrance of Falmouth harbour.

Pledging Support

All of these reasons seemed to have persuaded two benefactors of the Falmouth Art Gallery who had seen the auction catalogue to approach the gallery's director 14 days before the sale and offer financial support should try to acquire it.

After the benefactors duly pledged 'substantial' donations, a quick turn-around was required to get further funding applications in place from the Art Fund and Arts Council/V&A Purchase Grant Fund. The gallery's director Henrietta Boex was eventually able to successfully bid in the room against competition on the phone and secure it at £38,000. The estimate was £25,000-35,000.

The price would seem to represent decent value for the gallery - a similarly sized picture entitled Hauling in the Trammel Net had made £50,000 at Bonhams in April 2013, although that picture had been a later work and had differences in terms of composition and subject matter.

The current sale took place on April 15 and the buyer's premium was 25/20/12%.

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