Hemy was one of the nineteenth century's most skilled masters of coastal and harbor painting. Extremely popular during his lifetime he achieved substantial recognition as a marine artist among both critics and collectors. His painting "Pilchards" (1897) is considered one of the all time masterpieces of the maritime genre.
Born in Newcastle-on-Tyne, Hemy spent time as a merchant seaman and also in a Dominican monastery before establishing himself as a marine painter in Falmouth around 1870. He would spend the remainder of his life at Falmouth where, for a time, he lived aboard a floating studio to better pursue and capture his subjects.
Technically astute, Hemy would place the horizon high in his compositions creating works usually showing more sea than sky. This technique was emulated by his well known 20th century pupil, Montague Dawson, whose brush work and treatment of the sea is markedly similar to Hemy's. Hemy exhibited 78 paintings at the Royal Academy during his career and could command excellent prices for his day. He was elected to the royal academy in 1897.