The Art of Fishing
The bustle of activity, joyful shouts and consequent celebrations
in a cove, when a large shoal of pilchards was caught, contrasted starkly with
the destitution and adversity experienced by fisher folk when endless weeks of
bad weather kept the boats tied up.
This sharp contrast in fortunes attracted a group of painters to Newlyn in the 1880’s and their “plein air”, impressionist style became known as the “Newlyn School”. Artists such as Stanhope Forbes, Harold Harvey, Walter Langley, and Charles Napier Hemy captured the incredible hardship and stark simplicity of Cornish life. Charles Napier Hemy’s painting “Pilchards” was painted in 1897 and exhibited at the Royal Academy in London. To see a larger version of this painting click here!
In Hemy’s painting the main seine can be seen in the middle distance, between the two boats and extending out to the left-hand side of the picture. The Tuck net, in the fore ground is in use to bring some of the captured fish to the surface.
The angle of the sail, which has been partially lifted off the boom, the ships lantern that is still alight, together with the smoke that is coming from the stove in the stern also tell us something else. The crew had been at anchor, overnight, sheltering under the sail which was astride the boom, waiting for the fish to appear. They have jumped into action upon hearing their Huers cry of “Hevva Hevva” from the shore and within a few minutes have encircled the fish, joined the ends of the vast seine and now the long task of dipping and emptying the tuck net has begun.
This is the moment that Hemy has captured. He has, at the same time, suggested the different people involved in the fishery. Apart from sou’westers, the variety of headgear include a Tam O’ Shanter, a Stetson, a woollen hat and a bandanna. Are these tourists, buyers or seasonal workers?
Two men in the stern sit passively away from the activity and observe the scene, but who are they? In the distance, two Cornish luggers are seen beating back to port after a night’s drift netting.
To the right, two men emptying the tuck net use ray hooks to reach the basket handles while another uses an oar to force down the basket into the densely packed catch.