He is one of America’s most revered and famous painters – yet he is hardly known in the UK.
Yet a new exhibition at the National Gallery in London aims to raise the profile of an artist whose time at Cullercoats shaped the rest of his career.
Winslow Homer, who made a name for himself as an artist and journalist during the American Civil War, came to the Northeast in his mid-forties in 1881, with the original intention of staying there 2-3 month. However, he remained in the seaside village for almost two years.
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At present, there are no Homer paintings in any public collection in the UK, despite his career spanning over 40 years.
However, the National Gallery‘s new exhibition, Winslow Homer: Force of nature, which is co-curated with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, will feature over 50 of his paintings and watercolors from public and private collections later this year.
And a small group of them reflect his time in the Northeast, when Homer joined a small artists’ colony, becoming fascinated with life on the coast.
Christopher Riopelle, curator of post-1800 paintings at the National Gallery, said: “Homer had one of his pictures shown at the Royal Academy in 1877, so I think there was a lure coming to Britain. Why he came in 1881 I don’t think we’ll really know – he was a very taciturn guy and he never explained himself.
“What’s so interesting about Cullercoats is that he ended up staying for almost two years, so clearly something happened to him about the place.”
Throughout his career, Homer’s best-known works were powerful Civil War images and storms, the influence of which you can see in later works from his time at Cullercoats.
Chris continued: “What he had seen at Cullercoats, the life of fishermen and lifeboats, stayed with him and he continued to paint pictures of people living on the sea for a long time afterwards.
“There are two types of images that are very important. One is the images of these rescue squads. He was really fascinated by them. Perfectly ordinary people who would put their lives in danger when a ship was in danger in the North Sea would endanger their lives and save people from those boats.
“Every time the signal went off and a brigade was called out, he would rush to the shore and draw, watching what was going on.”
However, it wasn’t just the men of the Rescue Squads that Homer had focused on, but the women who awaited their return.
Chris continued: “He was also very fascinated by the women who had the difficult task of raising children in this inhospitable landscape and he paints them as very heroic figures standing on the shore buffeted by rain and waves.”
Indeed, Homer’s painting The gust of windwhich depicts a fisherwoman with a child on her back and is on loan from the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts, was exhibited both at the Royal Academy and in New York in the 19th century to showcase the work he was doing in Cullercoats.
“It’s (The Gale) in some ways their most famous painting (from the gallery), so we’re very happy they’re letting it come.”
Another work by Cullercoats featured in the exhibition is an 1883 watercolor Inside the baron loan from the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
National Gallery director Dr Gabriele Finaldi said: “Little known in Britain, Winslow Homer’s paintings explore the power, grandeur and beauty of nature and the dangers it poses to human life.
“Conflicts in human relationships, the struggle for survival and personal isolation are among its themes, treated both poetically and with dazzling technical bravery. The National Gallery is delighted to share this exhibition with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.”
Winslow Homer: Force of Nature will take place at the National Gallery from September 10, 2022 to January 8, 2023.
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