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FOTAG Focus Articles

For a number of years the Natal Witness ran articles by FOTAG members. These articles called the FOTAG Focus discussed artworks from the collection on display.

Home > Articles > Fotag Focus > Gravesend Reach, Cecil Hunt

Gravesend Reach


Cecil Hunt (1873-1965)

by David Livingstone

Gravesend Reach, Cecil HuntThe picture that always catches my attention at the Tatham Art Gallery is this watercolour by Cecil Hunt. Gravesend itself was part of the London docks area, which in its heyday was one of the world's busiest shipping docks - now of course no more. In fact, the picture of the pier and smoke stacks on the near side would be looking almost directly across to the Tilbury docks on the far side of the River Thames. Cecil Hunt was classed as one of the more traditionally-minded British watercolourists and was noted as having a more poetical element in his treatment of light.

To me watercolour has always been a particularly British medium - one of the greatest being Turner, who mastered most of the styles of eighteenth century watercolour and took the medium almost to the limits of its expressive possibilities. So, having such a grand master, the English watercolourists had a high standard to emulate and Cecil Hunt was a confident artist whose works were greatly admired.

This painting has a beauty of light that contrasts so well with the grimy smoke stacks. The luminous sky and the delicately drawn buildings in pencil give an exquisite contrast to the dark smoke and pier. The reflections in the water indicate a calm day as does the smoke drifting over the Thames, giving serenity, atmosphere and a freshness despite the black smoke (the colour black in the palette was not used much due to its opaqueness). Watercolour is a difficult medium to master well but it has its compensations in its translucency of colour.

The beautifully drawn pier and figures climbing up the steps bring in a human element, while the blue streaks on the boats in the foreground give the dark area an extra charge. The setting itself I find fascinating - the billowing smoke spelling pollution and grit giving an evocation of an era that no longer exists.

This is a painting that must be studied in detail as the nuances are many and each time I go to the Tatham I see something more in it. It is a very good example of a watercolour painted by one of the great English watercolourists who was a master of technique and as a result used it to full advantage of expression. It hangs on the stairs going up to the first floor alongside other major watercolourists like Cotman, who is also worth careful study.

More FOTAG Focus Articles


Johansson collectionThe Tatham Art Gallery holds an Art Collection that contains significant British and French artworks dating back to the 18th century. Its South-African art collection is focused on, but not exclusive to, the art of KwaZulu-Natal.


ImageThe Tatham Art Gallery hosts a range of Art Exhibitions. These include traveling and researched exhibitions as well as exhibitions initiated by the Gallery and compiled from the collection.


A selection of current and archival articles from the Tatham Art Gallery. These articles provide a historical and contemporary perspective on the Gallery and the visual arts in KwaZulu-Natal.

Art Gallery Shop

ImageThe Tatham Art Gallery shop stocks high quality works by local crafters. It is an ideal place to find unique presents and original collectables.