Henry Hetherington Emmerson

(1831 - 28 August 1895)

Born in Chester-le-Street, County Durham, the son of a tailor. He came to Newcastle at age 13 to study at the Government School of Design under William Scott Bell for some two years. He then spent six months in Paris, then to London on gaining entry to the Royal Academy Schools at approx sixteen years old. He supported himself entirely unaided through portrait commissions. Emmerson exhibited his oil 'The Village Tailor' at the Royal Academy 1851. He moved back north in 1856, briefly to Whickham, then Ebchester, then onto Stocksfield living there for some six years. In 1865 he removed to Cullercoats, retaining a home there for the rest of his life, although he spent a number of years living mainly at Rothbury. He specialised in pictures of children and is probably best known for his painting of the Princesses Louise, Victoria, and Maude, visiting in the garden at Cragside, 1884; "The Maid of Derwent", Stockfield Cottage, Bywell near Newcastle on Tyne, 1858; The Spring, 1865, and The Farmers Daughter, 1872.

The Art Journal reviewer of the 1858 Academy exhibition noted the contrasting placidity and vigour of the river and rapids depicted in Emmerson's 'Maid of Derwent'. The maid, he states, is '...painted with infinite sweetness.' and '[the] surface of the water behind her is liquid and lustrous, but as it flows over the wear, the charm of that breadth and brilliancy is broken - it falls in thousands of sharp and cutting threads'. Though perhaps a little forcibly expressed, the comments draw attention to the extreme care and fidelity with which Emmerson realises his scene. The Derwent is the largest river in the Peak District and a major tributary of the River Trent. Wordsworth's verse, To the river Derwent, composed during his 1833 tour of the Derbyshire region, paid homage to its loveliness and perhaps inspired Emmerson's romantic image. Painted in the decade following the emergence of the Pre-Raphaelites, the artist succeeds in being 'true to nature' and further pays tribute to their innovation with his luminous colour palette.

His reputation grew locally and his works still form a valuable nexus in the permanent inventories of public museums such as the Laing, Newcastle, York City Art Gallery, and a number of smaller, private, collections. Emmerson also found fame in London, exhibiting 54 or 58 works at the Royal Academy between 1851-93.

The painter lived for a time in Rothbury where his patron was Tyneside industrialist Lord Armstrong of Cragside. He also lived in Whickham in Gateshead, Ebchester in County Durham and Stocksfield in Northumberland. He was a father figure among North East artists who attended the new Government School of Art in Newcastle where the sons of artisans were given training in art and design.

Cullercoats was where he settled best and became such a leading member of the wider community that he served as a member of the village’s Volunteer Life Brigade, and played active roles in local football and cricket clubs.

Emmerson died in the year that Hedley painted his portrait (1895). He was given the honour of a traditional fisherman’s funeral. On the day of his funeral the flag flew at half mast on Cullercoats Look-Out House. Just before 2 p.m. his coffin was brought out and placed on the pavement of John Street, and fishermen sang a hymn around it. Four fishermen carried his coffin to the hearse, and a throng of his friends from the worlds of art, business, fishing and sport attended his burial. After he died a local reporter wrote: “Mr. Emmerson was perfectly at home in the drawing room of the great, the parlour of the middleman, and the cottage kitchen of the humble... he beamed as heartily in the company of a peasant or fisherman as in that of a lord”.

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*1. by John Hodgson Campbell 1895 H. H. Emmerson by Ralph Hedley 1895 The Princesses Louise, Victoria and Maude Visiting Cragside in 1884 The Royal Visit
Edith Emmerson
age 3, 1874
Artist's Daughter 1889

*1. Portrait of Henry Hetherington Emmerson by John Hodgson Campbell (1855-1927). Inscribed on the front 'life class drawing of the President' and signed and further signed and inscribed verso 'To Aaron Watson Esq. 1896', Emmerson, president of The Bewick Club, died a short while before this date which would therefore be when gifted.

About: Reading the Queen's Letter 1862
(An elderly pitman and his wife seated at a fireside). The painting was made in response to the Hartley Pit disaster which took place on 16 January 1862 when 204 men and boys lost their lives after the beam broke from the pumping engine and entombed them underground. Hartley was one of this country’s most devastating mining disasters. At the time, mines were only required to have one entrance so the men who were trapped underground at Hartley had no other means of escape. As a result of the incident, an Act of Parliament was passed on 7 August 1862, requiring new mines to have two entrances or exits. After 1 January 1865, the Act was extended to all existing mines. Shortly after the disaster a relief fund was started raising over £80,000, £200 of which was donated by Queen Victoria. The Queen also sent personal letters to those who had lost family members. For the subject of this work the artist has chosen to depict a grieving family reading one of these letters. Emmerson expanded this composition to include more figures and it was published as an engraved print. Inscribed 'Hartley' and dated 1862; with inscription verso "Study from nature at Hartley for the Reading of the Queen's letter" and signed with initials verso (back, or other side of some object) oil on board.

County Durham is a ceremonial county and (smaller) unitary district in North East England. The county town is Durham. The largest settlement in the ceremonial county (in its own unitary borough) is Darlington The county has a mixture of mining and farming heritage, as well as a heavy railway industry, particularly in the southeast of the county in Darlington, Shildon and Stockton. Its economy was historically based on coal and iron mining. The ceremonial county borders Tyne and Wear, Cumbria, Northumberland and North Yorkshire, forming part of the North East England region.