Charles Napier Hemy

Charles Napier Hemy

Charles Napier Hemy was born in Newcastle upon Tyne on 24th. May 1841, being one of the sons of H.F. Hemy, a music teacher and composer. He attended the local Grammar School and studied at the Newcastle School of Art under William Cozens Way (1833-1905). In 1852, the family boarded the Sailing ship ‘Madawaska’ and emigrated to Australia, where they spent some two and half years. During this time Hemy’s father worked in the Gold Fields of Ballarat, near Melbourne, being helped by his son as a ‘rough digger.’ On their return trip to England, Charles Hemy actively helped in shipboard life, infecting him with a lifelong love of the sea. After arriving home in Newcastle, he decided to enter the priesthood but the love of the sea was too strong and he left college in 1856, to work on a collier brig.

At the end of this period he again became a priest and spent the next two years at a Dominican House in Newcastle and in a monastery at Lyons in France. However, his health was not up to it and he abandoned the idea on his twenty-first birthday in May 1862 and finally settled down to paint and become a professional artist, developing the seeds of the Pre-Raphaelite influence by studying the works of Millais, Holman Hunt, Madox Brown and Dyce at the International Exhibition of 1862. This experience, together with his reading of Ruskin, led him to adopt elements of the Pre-Raphaelite Style.

By the mid 1860s, he was painting atmospheric landscapes under the influence of George Pinwell, Fred Walker and J.W. North. In 1865 and the next five years he studied at the Antwerp Academy under Baron Leys. He had exhibited many works by this time and he continued to exhibit at the Royal Academy and the Suffolk Street Galleries as well as in various provincial exhibitions. After Leys’ death in 1869, he settled in London circa 1871, moving to Falmouth some twelve years later, living and working on a converted fishing boat.

He was elected Associate of the Royal Watercolour Society in 1890, becoming a full member in 1897 and Associate of the Royal Academy in 1895, being made a member in 1910. His style had by this time altered dramatically, becoming very much broader and more impressionistic but he never lost his accuracy of detail or his feeling for the wind and sea. In 1897, his painting ‘Pilchards’ was purchased by the Chantry Bequest for the Tate Gallery and in 1904 a further picture titled ‘London River’ was again purchased for the Tate.

He died in Falmouth in 1917 and a Memorial Exhibition of his work was held at the Fine Art Society in London the following year; examples of his works have been included in several other important exhibitions since that date.

Examples of his works may be seen in the British Museum, London; The Tate Gallery, London; National Maritime Museum, Greenwich; Gray Art Gallery and Museum, Hartlepool; Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle; South Shields Museum and Art Gallery; Sunderland Art Gallery; and the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.

He exhibited between 1863-1917

His life was one of tradgey and joy for his first marriage ended abruptly in 1880 when his wife died suddenly from meningitis, Hemy was then 39.  Once again, because he had love of travel, he took off around the world but began to realise that, although his paintings were selling well, he wasn’t getting any younger and needed a settled family life. 

It was a long time family friend, Monsignor Croke Robinson, a senior member of the Catholic Church, who introduced him to Amy Freeman, who lived in Falmouth. They were married a year later. At first they rented 1 Park Terrace and their first child, Philip had arrived and his second Hilda was on the way. it was at this time they had "Churchfield" designed and built, finished in 1883 this became the place were many of Hemy’s most famous works were produced. Hemy and his wife Amy went on to produce ten children.

Amy eventually sold the property in February 1920.