PROVENANCE: Private Collection, UK
EXHIBITED: RA 1908, no. 46
Newcastle, Palace of Art, North East Coast Exhibition, 1929
The title of the picture comes from Robert Southey, his poem Madoc of 1805 recounting the ocean voyage of a medieval Welsh king to America: 'Day after day, day after day the same . . . A weary waste of waters!'
Hemy, a devout Catholic, forged a deep spiritual bond with the sea when he was only nine years old, enduring the passage from Liverpool to Melbourne with his family, a three month journey; their trip back to England, four years later, would take twice as long. By the time the Hemys returned to Newcastle, Charles was an experienced sailor at the age of thirteen. The sea would haunt him for the rest of his life, as he later wrote, 'it entered my soul, it was imprinted on my mind, and I never forgot it, I have gone on painting it all my life' (Powell, 70).
He moved to Falmouth, Cornwall in the mid 1880s and converted an old seine boat into a floating studio; she was called The Vandermeer -where the nets were stored for catching pilchards now sat his studio, with windows at sea-level, perfect for painting every movement of the waves. After enormous success in 1897 with Pilchards (Tate Gallery) Hemy became a household name, selling pictures not only in England, but also to yachting enthusiasts in Australia and America.
Hemy considered his best work to be produced in 1908, at the age of 67, when the present picture was exhibited. A Waste of Waters is the culmination of decades spent sketching the water- a vast, empty sea, churns slowly as gulls swoop overhead.
Frank Brangwyn wrote, "To me Hemy stands for the waters of England... His knowledge of the sea was superb. As a draughtsman of wave forms he stands alone."*
*From the foreword to Hemy's memorial exhibition 'A Life on the Sea' held at the Fine Art Society, 1918.