A gentle, endearing character, who lived to be nearly a hundred and was a pillar of the 'Aesthetic' community in Bedford Park, Rooke trained at South Kensington and the Royal Academy Schools before being taken on as Burne-Jones's studio assistant in 1869. He continued to work for Burne-Jones until his master's death in 1898, and subsequently completed his unfinished mosaics in the American Church in Rome. Much of his work shows Burne-Jones's influence, and he was deeply involved in various aspects of the Arts and Crafts.
But Rooke had another string to his bow as a skilful and objective topographical draughtsman. This attracted the attention of John Ruskin, who sent him to Venice to record the mosaics of St Mark's in 1878, and continued to employ him, often in France, until 1893.
Rooke had developed his topographical skills long before he joined Burne-Jones's studio, and in fact lots 26-27 date from the previous year. They belong to a group of watercolours made at Hastings and Fairlight in 1868, ten of which, these among them, were included in the pioneering Rooke exhibition mounted by Martyn Gregory in 1975 (cat. nos. 29-38). Hastings had long attracted artists working in the English watercolour tradition. Turner, Prout, Cox, De Wint, Linnell and W.H. Hunt had all painted there, and Joshua Cristall had made a memorable visit in 1807. Rooke's chief motive for going, however, may have been the fact that the area had strong Pre-Raphaelite associations. Holman Hunt had discovered Fairlight, situated five miles north-east of Hastings on the Sussex coast, in 1852 through his pupil Robert Martineau, whose parents lived nearby. That summer he and Edward Lear painted there, Hunt on the well-known Strayed Sheep (Tate Gallery), and he returned periodically over many years. One of his later Fairlight subjects, The Silver Lining, a watercolour of 1865, was sold in these Rooms on 12 June 2002 (lot 40) and is now in the Lloyd Webber Collection.
The watercolour is sold with a contemporary photograph of the subject.