James Clarke Hook

(21 November 1819 - 14 April 1907)

Hook was born in London, the son of James Hook, a draper and one time Judge of the mixed commission court in Sierra Leone. His mother was the second daughter of Bible scholar Dr Adam Clarke - hence the painter's second name. Young Hook's first taste of the sea was on board the Berwick smacks which took him on his way to Wooler. He drew with rare facility, and determined to become an artist, practiced his work, on his own initiative, for more than a year in the sculpture galleries of the British Museum. Still in his youth, he also had some advice by John Jackson and John Constable.

In 1836, Hook was admitted as a student to the Royal Academy, London, where he worked for three years. His first picture, called "The Hard Task", was exhibited in 1839, and represented a girl helping her sister with a lesson. In 1842, Hook's second exhibited work was a portrait of "Master J. Finch Smith". In 1844 he was represented at the exhibition at Westminster Hall with a design called "Satan in Paradise" to compete for the fresco decorations of the new Palace of Westminster, but was not selected or won a prize. In 1844 the Academy showed his "Pamphilius relating his Story" (inspired by the Decameron), which consisted of a meadow scene in bright light, with sumptuous women, richly clad, reclining on the grass.

In 1844 and 1845, the British Institution exhibited two of Hook's paintings - subjects taken from Shakespeare and Burns, which, with the above, showed him able to handle themes of romantic sentiment and the picturesque which were then in vogue, but in an original and vigorous manner. "The Song of Olden Times" (Royal Academy, 1845) marked the artist's future path distinctly in most technical respects. It was in this year Hook won the Academy gold medal for "The Finding of the Body of Harold."

A travelling studentship in painting was awarded to Hook for "Rizpah watching the dead sons of Saul" in 1846, and he went to Italy for three years, having married fellow artist, Rosalie Burton, before leaving England. Hook passed through Paris, worked diligently for some time in the Louvre, traversed Switzerland, and, though be stayed only part of three years in Italy, gained much from studies of Titian and other Venetians.

The influence of these old masters dominated the future coloration of Hooke's pictures, and he applied the artistic lessons learned from his travels to the painting of romantic subjects and those English themes of land and sea which became his trademarks. "A Dream of Ancient Venice" (RA, 1848), "Bayard of Brescia" (R.A., 1849), "Venice" (BI, 1849) and other works, won him an Associateship of the Royal Academy in 1850, and he gained full membership in 1860. In 1850, he also became a member of the Etching Club.

Soon after, he abandoned History Painting and turned his attention to genre depictions in rural landscapes like "A Rest by the Wayside" and "A Few Minutes to Wait before Twelve o'clock" (both exhibited 1854). Several visits to Clovelly in Devon prompted him to adopt coastal scenes as his main motif and showed the hardship and rewards of life by the sea. Some early examples are "A Signal on the Horizon" (1857), "A Widow's Son going to Sea," "The Ship-boy's Letter," "Children's Children are the Crown of Old Men," "A Coast-boy gathering Eggs," a scene at Lundy; "Luff, Boy!" (1859), "The Book, Stand Clear! O Well for the Fishermans Boy!" (1860), "Leaving Cornwall for the Whitby Fishing," and "Sea Urchins". He painted these types of scenes so frequently that his coastal paintings were soon dubbed "Hookscapes".

In 1857, Hook left London to settle in rural Surrey around Godalming. In 1866 he built his country house "Silverbeck" near Churt where he lived for the rest of his life. He was a frequent traveller, however, and searched out picturesque coastal areas in Scotland, Wales, Devon and Cornwall, and also abroad in Britanny and the Netherlands. The more remote and unknown the place the better. There he painted en plein air but put the final touches to each picture back home.

Hook continued to exhibit every year until 1902. He died at Silverbeck in 1907. Two of his sons were also artists: Allan James Hook (1853–1946), a marine painter, and Bryan Hook (1856–1925), an animal and bird painter.

HOOK, JAMES CLARKE (1819-1907), painter, born in Northampton Square, Clerkenwell, on 21 November 1819, was eldest son of James Hook, who was at first a draper in London, and after a failure in business became judge of the mixed commission court of Sierra Leone; his mother was Eliza, the second daughter of Dr. Adam Clarke [q. v.], the Bible commentator. After a general education at the North London grammar school in Islington he studied art in London, first at the British Museum, then in the schools of the Royal Academy, to which he was admitted a student in 1836. As a boy he received some advice from Constable and John Jackson. In 1839 he went to Dublin to paint a few portraits. In 1842 he won medals both in the life and in the painting school at the Academy; in 1845, he received the gold medal for historical painting, and in the following year the travelling studentship. He first exhibited at the Academy in 1839, sending "The Hard Task." This work was hung at the British Institute from 1844. In the latter year his "Pamphilus relating his Story" from Boccaccio also appeared at the Academy. From Florence he sent 'Bassanio commenting on the Caskets' to the same exhibition in 1847, and "Otho IV at Florence" in 1848. The revolution of 1848 drove him from Venice back to England before the end of the year. First settling at Brampton, he afterwards built a house. Tor Villa, on Campden Hill. He continued his devotion to the old-fashioned genre of historical anecdote, scenes from Scott and from romantic Literature generally. Among his best-known pictures of this period were: "The Rescue of the Brides of Venice" (R.A. 1851), "Othello's description of Desdemona" (R.A. 1852), and "Isabella of Castile" and the "Idle Nuns" (R.A. 1853). In 1850 he was elected A.R.A. and in 1860 R.A.

Meanwhile in 1853 Hook had moved to Abinger, in Surrey, and in 1854 he first visited Clovelly. A complete change of subject followed and he began to modify his style, at first betraying some Pre-Raphaelite influences. In his "A Few Minutes to Wait before Twelve o'clock" (1853), he first turned his attention to English landscape, but he thenceforth confined himself chiefly to the scenery and life on the English coast and in the narrow seas. Such subjects he treated with a vigorous sense of movement and of briny atmosphere which was as far removed as possible from studies like "Bassanio and the Caskets." He was, in short, converted to the faith of Constable, and devoted the rest of his life to the honest painting of the sea and of nature as he saw it. His development roused the enthusiasm of Ruskin, who deemed his feeling superior to his execution, however. His general reputation was made in 1859, by his "Luff, Boy!" Among other well-known works of his later period are: "The Fisherman's Goodnight" (1856); "A Signal on the Horizon" (1857); "The Coast Boy gathering Eggs" (1858); "The Trawlers" (1862); "Fish from the Dogger Bank" (1870); '"he Samphire Gatherer" (1876); "The Broken Oar" (1886); "Breadwinners of the North" (1896); and "The Stream" (1885, bought by the Chantrey bequest and now in the Tate Gallery). Hook is also represented there by "Home with the Tide" (1880), "Young Dreams" (1887), "The Seaweed Raker" (1889), and "Wreckage from the Fruiter" (presented in 1908). He painted a few portraits, the best known, perhaps, being one of his son, Allan (1897).

He was through life a strong radical and nonconformist, frequently attending primitive methodist chapels. He died at his house, Silverbeck, Churt, Surrey, which he had built for himself and occupied for forty years, on 14 April 1907, and was buried in Farnham cemetery. His portrait, painted in 1882, in which he resembles a weather-beaten salt, is one of the best works of Sir John Millais, Bart., P.R.A. A portrait by Opie belongs to his son Bryan. A small pencil sketch made by Charles Lear in 1845-6 is in the National Portrait Gallery. In 1891 he painted a portrait of himself for the Uffizi gallery at Florence.

In 1846, he married the third daughter of James Burton, solicitor, and by her had two sons, Allan and Bryan, both artists. His wife predeceased him in 1897. He left gross personalty 112,108l. and 96,901l. net. Hook's art during his first period was in no way distinguished above that of other practitioners of a genre now obsolete, but his maritime pictures have a force and character of their own which will never fail to exercise a certain charm. Many of his works were exhibited at the winter exhibition of the Royal Academy in 1908.

[Men of the Time; The Times, 16 and 19 April, 6 and 21 May 1907; Graves, Royal Acad. and Brit. Inst. Exhibitors; Ruskin, Academy Notes, ed. Wedderburn and Cook, 1904; D. G. Rossetti, Letters to W. Allingham, 285-7; Dictionary of National Biography 1912 supplement, Hook, James Clarke, by Walter Armstrong

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