Henry Moore belonged to a family of artists whose roots lay in York. His father, the portrait painter William Moore (1790-1851), married twice, producing a total of fourteen children of whom five sons became artists. Edwin and William, born respectively in 1813 and 1817, belonged to the 'first' family, while John Collingham (1829-1880), Henry himself and his younger brother Albert (1841-1893) belonged to the 'second'. Edwin and William were essentially topographical artists of no great ambition. John Collingham, who lived for many years in Rome, painted Italian views in the Etruscan style as well as specialising in sensitive studies of children. Albert, who is probably today the best known of the siblings, became a close friend of Whistler and a figure painter dedicated to the expression of Aesthetic values.
Like all the brothers, Henry was encouraged by his father to base his work on painstaking study of nature. In 1851, the year his father died, he enrolled at the York School of Design, but in 1852 he moved to London, where he studied briefly at the Royal Academy Schools. Three years later he was joined by Albert, both brothers settling in the metropolis for life. In 1865 Henry supported the first watercolour exhibition at the Dudley Gallery, and in 1876 he became an assocaiate of the Old Watercolour Society, graduating to full membership four years later. The Royal Academy, where he had exhibited regularly since 1853, made him an associate in 1885 and a member in 1893, two years before his death. He was the only one of the Moore brothers to find such recognition in Burlington House.
A Highland Stream dates from 1867 and is characteristic of Henry's early work in watercolour, betraying the impact of his father's training as well as the influence of Ruskin. The fourth volume of Modern Painters (1856) had inspired Henry to visit Switzerland to paint Alpine scenery, and the following year Ruskin had praised one of the results in Academy Notes. A significant link between our picture and this formative period is Henry's oil painting A Mountain Torrent of 1859 (private collection; illustrated in Robin Asleson, Albert Moore, London, 2000, p. 14), in which the watercolour's subject and composition are startlingly anticipated. There is also an interesting parallel in the early work of Albert Moore, which shows an even greater devotion to Pre-Raphaelite detail. The most famous example is the Study of an Ash Trunk of 1857 (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; illustrated in Asleson, p. 17), but more relevant here is a slightly later watercolour in the same collection, Waterfall in the Lake District (Asleson, p. 16). Again the subject is similar, although it says much about the brothers' artistic priorities that while Henry's approach is essentially naturalistic, Albert, although working nearly a decade earlier, already shows himself alive to qualities of pattern and abstraction that would later become dominant in his figure compositions.