Harold Harvey, along with Laura and Harold Knight, and Dod and Ernest Proctor, revived the fortunes of Newlyn painting in the early years of the twentieth-century. In Harvey's case, the signature subject matter, 'sons of the sea', was extended to include field work in the farms around the village of Paul. At the same time, the great drama of the fishing grounds in Charles Napier Hemy's Pilchards, 1898 (Tate Britain) was scaled down in Harvey's pictures of urchins 'whiffling' in a rowing boat on a sunny day. The life of the harbour had replaced that of the storm-tossed 'R. Seine' boat.
Harvey painted the little anchorage at Mousehole throughout his career, the first recorded instance being circa 1898. In works of 1907 and 1908, it provided the setting for his versions of earlier Forbes and Langley motifs - sorting the catch, and watching for the fleet. However at the time of painting these genre pictures, Harvey must have realised that they were already outmoded. Motorcars were in evidence on Cornish roads, mechanisation was reaching the fishing industry and old customs were dying out. Passing through Mousehole in 1907, Lewis Hind noted the picturesqueness of this cluster of cottages, built from local close-grained granite, quarried from nearby Lamorna. At the same time he remarked upon its continuing dependence on the pilchard trade and hoped he might detect a Spanish look in Mousehole's inhabitants, since this was where an abortive invasion was launched in the late 16th Century.
In the early 1920s Mousehole was no longer the backdrop for dramatic incidents in the life of fishermen's families. On a clear day, as in the present picture, it looked more like a village in a primitive painting, equivalent to a Tuscan hill town in a Florentine 15th Century fresco. The few fishermen who linger by the harbour rail, engage in conversation - there are no sightseers to tour the nearby caves - and 'The Ship', the ancient public house to the left of the painting, waits for trade. The fleet upon which the village economy still depends and which lies at anchor in Mousehole Harbour, 1923 (sold Christie's, London, 23 June 1994, lot 2) is out at sea.
Harvey's style had altered significantly in the previous fifteen years and his pre-war Naturalism had given way to a clean marquetry of flat, unmodulated colours, which reacts sensitively to the tonal alterations of seafront façades. There was a greater emphasis on pictorial design to help describe a village haven, the stout stone piers of which protected its safe anchorage. At the same time the ensemble cleverly anticipates the sylvan Cornish havens of Christopher Wood. Alluding to the constant presence of the sea in the landscape of West Cornwall, Symons quoted Byron - 'Time writes no wrinkle on thine azure brow'. Harvey's Mousehole, clinging to the hillside, close to Land's End, shares in this timelessness.