Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Hook, James Clarke

HOOK, JAMES CLARKE (1819–1907), painter, born in Northampton Square, Clerkenwell, on 21 Nov. 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); 'The Samphire Gatherer' (1875); '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; private information.]

W. A.