Historic Emmerson painting to be auctioned

A PAINTING of one of the stalwarts of a celebrated fishing community will be sold at auction today.

Henry Hetherington Emmerson painting of Betty Donkin and Meggy Arthur

A PAINTING of one of the stalwarts of a celebrated fishing community will be sold at auction today.

Betty Donkin was one of the 19th-Century fisherwomen of Cullercoats in North Tyneside, who would sell their men’s catches from creels on their backs.

Their traditional dress and the picturesque location of the village turned Cullercoats into an artists’ colony.

One of the many painters who gravitated to Cullercoats was Henry Hetherington Emmerson.

Born in Chester-le-Street in County Durham in 1831, he had a home in Cullercoats from 1865 and Betty Donkin became one of his favourite subjects. Emmerson was perhaps one of the first artists to paint “waiting women” subjects, which later became a popular theme.

In the painting, which will be sold today in Newcastle by Anderson & Garland, Betty is shown alongside young villager Meggy Arthur.

Using the contrast of youth and age, Emmerson portrays the old mother and young wife waiting for the return of the fishing boats and their loved one. The painting is expected to fetch between £4,000 and £7,000. This compares to its original purchase price of £10 when it was bought, when first exhibited at the Centre Exchange in Newcastle in 1870, by Hugh Taylor of Chipchase Castle in Northumberland.

Newcastle City Library’s local studies section also has an 1873 photograph of Betty Donkin, in which she is wearing her work clothes of jacket, shawl, ankle-length skirt with tucked hemline, apron, and a linen cap under her bonnet.

For the past three years the painting has been on loan to the National Trust’s Cragside property at Rothbury in Northumberland.

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. But Cullercoats was where he settled best and he died there in 1895.

He became such a leading member of the wider community that he served in the village’s volunteer life brigade and was given the honour of traditional fisherman’s funeral.

He exhibited a total of 58 of his works at the Royal Academy over his lifetime .

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