This watercolour belongs to the small group of Pre-Raphaelite landscapes that Hemy painted early in his career. Dated 1862, it pre-dates by two years Among the Shingle at Clovelly (Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle), the picture which is usually regarded as his masterpiece in this style, and, as such, was included in the Pre-Raphaelite landscape exhibition recently mounted at the Tate Gallery (no. 117, illustrated in catalogue). Two more paintings in the same idiom, again slightly later than the present watercolour, have been handled by Christie's in recent years: The Spanish Battery at the Mouth of the Tyne, 1863 (25 March 1994, lot 164) and The Last of the Wreck, 1864 (13 November 1992, lot 133).
Hemy's early development was complex. Born in Newcastle, he entered the local School of Design in 1852, encountering William Bell Scott, who was then the master. During the mid-1850s it was touch and go whether he would be a painter at all since he toyed with the idea of becoming a Roman Catholic priest and in the summer of 1856 suddenly went off to sea on a collier brig. By 1859, however, his career as a sailor was over, and by his twenty-first birthday in May 1862 he had realised that he had no vocation for the priesthood either. Returning from a stay in the Dominican monastery at Lyons, he finally settled down to painting, nurturing the seeds of Pre-Raphaelite influence sown ten years earlier by Bell Scott by studying the works of Millais, Holman Hunt, Madox Brown and Dyce at the International Exhibition of 1862. This experience, together with his reading of Ruskin, led him to adopt the detailed Pre-Raphaelite style seen in the oils and watercolours of the next few years.
The present watercolour was painted at Monkseaton on the Northumberland coast, half a mile south of Whitley Bay and ten miles north-east of Newcastle, Hemy's birthplace. His father still lived in the area, moving to Gateshead in 1863, and Hemy painted several local views at this time, hoping to sell them to dealers. They included The Spanish Battery, mentioned above, and The Ruin of a Northumberland Keep (Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle), which was included in the Hemy Exhibition held at Newcastle and Plymouth in 1984 (cat. no. 9, illustrated). Another picture, Among the Rocks when the Tide is out (same catlogue, p. 20, fig. 4), is so close to our watercolour in design and detail that it too was almost certainly painted at Monkseaton, a picturesque spot, once owned by the monks of Tynemouth, that was becoming popular with tourists. Moreover, linking the two images sheds light on each. There seems to be some question as to whether the painting is dated 1862 or 1865; its close relationship with the watercolour suggests that 1862 is correct. Equally, the influence of Bell Scott, which Andrew Greg, the author of the Hemy exhibtion catalogue, sees in the painting, is no less relevant to the watercolour. Scott remained master of the Newcastle School of Design until 1864, and he and Hemy may well have resumed contact in 1862. By way of comparison, Greg cites a view on the Northumberland coast that Scott painted that very year, now in the William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow (Hemy exh. cat., p. 20. fig. 5).
Hemy's Pre-Raphaelite phase was not to last. By the mid-1860s he was painting atmospheric landscapes under the influence of George Pinwell, Fred Walker and J.W. North, and in 1867 he went to Antwerp to study under Baron Leys. A product of this period, very close to Leys in style and indeed actually worked on by him, was offered in these Rooms on 25 October 1991, lot 40. It was only after he had returned to England following Leys' death in August 1869 that Hemy began to develop his familiar mature style, a bold painterly technique applied to marine subjects.