Pictures capture the Tyne in another century

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AT the end of the day, it may matter only to the connoisseur who it was who painted them.

The collection of pictures held by South Shields Museum by the artist(s) James Cleet are still a lovely evocation of the Tyne and its environs in another century.

The equivocation with the name is because it turns out there has always been slight historical confusion as to how many of the paintings were by James Cleet Snr and how many by his son, also called James and better known as a distinguished photographer in the town.

When the collection was given to the museum more than 30 years ago by James Cleet Jnr’s widow, it was established that the father signed his work just ‘J Cleet’ while his son signed himself ‘JH Cleet.’

But then JH Cleet was known to sometimes copy J Cleet’s work, so did he also copy his signature?

It can all get a bit muddy, as you can tell.

What you can’t dispute, though, is the charm of some of the pictures, such as this very rural scene of Hedworth Farm, reproduced with the permission of Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums.

As for their artistic merit, though, well they did have their detractors.

I managed to turn up a note from 1892, so about a decade before James Snr’s death (if indeed it was him), when some of the paintings featured in an art exhibition in the Free Library Hall (now the museum) in Ocean Road.

Whoever was reviewing the event for the Shields Gazette wrote: “We like best his ‘On The Tyne,’ but there is much laboured work.”

Ouch. But then I believe that Cleet Snr’s craft was actually as a shipwright. Whether he had any formal training as an artist, I’m not sure, though his son studied at South Shields Art School.

One thing which the collection does illustrate is that whoever wielded the brush, they travelled widely in and around Tyneside, as there are also views of places like Monkseaton and Chirton, and also Meadowell, when the latter was still mainly farmland.

There are also some dramatic coastal scenes - shipwrecks and the like, one or two of which I’ll bring you in coming days.