This watercolour was part of a series that Holman Hunt executed in the autumn of 1860 during a walking holiday in Cornwall and Devon with Alfred Tennyson, fellow artist Val Prinsep, and writer and art critic Francis Turner Palgrave.
Hunt did not consider himself a watercolourist and was never prolific in this field. However, in a creative burst on this trip in 1860, Hunt executed ten watercolours in the space of about three weeks, a remarkable feat for such a notoriously slow worker. This required dedication and pertinacity, and on 2 October Palgrave, back in London, wrote to Emily Tennyson: 'We were sorry not to have more of Hunt's company, but as he preferred his Art to our honourable society, what could be done?'
Three other drawings of the Lizard peninsula are recorded: Asparagus Island, Kynance, Cornwall (fig. 1) sold in these Rooms 24 November 2004, lot 1, The Lizard, Cornwall (private collection), and Sea mist- The Lizard, Cornwall (unlocated). Hunt's application of the washes and his use of colour describe in concise and simple strokes the architecture of the rocks and the rush of the sea. He has used the technique of scratching out to convey the spume of the breaking waves on the rocks and he has left the paper bare in the lower left corner to indicate where the sea crashes onto the shore.
Asparagus Island, Kynance, Cornwall was also owned by Sydney Morse (d. 1929), who formed a distinguished collection that included works by Constable, Cox, Gainsborough, Burne-Jones, Madox Brown, Millais, Rossetti and Ruskin as well as artists from a later generations such as Anning Bell, Frank Cadogan Cowper, Birket Foster, Albert Goodwin and E.R. Hughes, with whom Morse was especially friendly.
Interestingly The Cornish Coast is recorded as being in his widow, Juliet M. Morse's collection in 1936. It was at her request that Holman Hunt took up and finished the first version of The Triumph of the Innocents (Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University Art Museums). The inscription on the back of the blind stretcher includes the sentence 'It was completed in 1903, purchased directly by Juliet M. Morse from Holman Hunt'. In other words, Juliet Morse was a patron of Hunt's in her own right, so it may be that she inherited The Cornish Coast from her husband in 1929 but not necessarily so.
We are grateful to Judith Bronkhurst, author of the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Hunt's work, for her help in preparing this catalogue entry.