Hook had turned to seascapes and coastal scenes following the success of Luff Boy!, which was much praised by Ruskin upon its Academy exhibition in 1859.
The present picture presents an intriguing puzzle, as it does not tally with any work listed by either F.G. Stephens or Alan Hook (the artist's biographers) in their inventories for 1883. Indeed the subject brings to mind coastal scenes painted during the 1860s and 70s; and is possibly a later version of an earlier composition. The Lobster Catcher of 1868, for example, reviewed by F.G. Stephens for the Atheneaum '[represents] an old fisherman in a rough boat in the act of examining the baskets...some of these pots lie in the boat...A background is supplied by one of the most beautiful of Mr Hook's seas, a triumph of colour and modelling'. It is only the reported presence of another figure, a boy, in the boat, which prevents the comparison from being more conclusive.
Hook worked on his seascapes during the summer and then revised them for exhibition. It is possible that Unloading the catch may have been sold privately before Hook had a chance to show it.
Whether or not he was revisiting familiar themes, Hook's love of the British coast, and industrious work in situ, lend integrity to his seascapes and Unloading the Catch is not exempt. Although it has been impossible to identify the picture's original title, we can make some credible guesses as to the location. Hook and his wife visited Cornwall in the summer of 1882; and Rosalie's diary records a trip to Mullian on 21 July, and a walk to Bellurian Cove later that day. Alternatively, it has been suggested that Hook depicts Salcombe Harbour in South Devon, around the corner from Hope Cove.
1883 was a seminal year for Hook, as Millais's portrait of him hung alongside his Academy exhibits. Recognition of every kind was incipient; and Hook became accustomed to members of the public hailing him in the street.
We are grateful to Juliet McMaster and Tom Cruse for their help with this catalogue entry.