Newly-Acquired Painting Celebrates West Somerset History
We have acquired an outstanding Victorian painting which depicts a little-known aspect of the fishing industry at Porlock Weir. Three oyster dredgers are shown sailing close to the shore with their oyster nets clearly visible in the foreground.
Completed in 1890, the large-scale oil painting is by the artist Charles Napier Hemy who lived at Falmouth for much of his career and was a master of coastal scenes. The painting has been acquired with generous support from the Art Fund and from the Arts Council England/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund.
Oyster fishing was important at Porlock Weir at least from the early 1700s. After a downturn, fishing revived in the later 1800s, and from about 1870 was largely being undertaken by the Pollard family. They may well be some of the people depicted in the painting. In the early 1900s fishing stopped after boats from Whitby reputedly decimated the oyster beds.
The painting has been acquired at a timely moment. New oyster beds were established in Porlock Bay in 2014 as part of a two-year trial.
Tom Mayberry, Chief Executive of the South West Heritage Trust, said “This painting is far more than just an attractive view of Porlock Weir. It is also a unique record of working life on the West Somerset coast. We are most grateful to our generous funders for making its acquisition possible.”
Steve Thompson, director of Porlock Bay Oysters, said “We are delighted that this important picture’s future has been secured for the enjoyment for all those interested in art and local history. The timing of the acquisition is perfect as Porlock Bay Oysters are scheduled to once again harvest Oysters from the estuary and will commence trading in early 2016.”
Stephen Deuchar, director of the Art Fund, said: “The painting addresses a historically-important local industry in Somerset, little represented in the visual art collections of the museum, but currently in revival. So we’re very pleased to support the acquisition of this attractive and significant work by an artist of national repute.”
The painting has just gone on permanent display at the Museum at Somerset.