He is one of America’s most respected and famous painters – but is hardly known in Britain.
Still, a new exhibition at London’s National Gallery aims to elevate the profile of an artist whose time at Cullercoats continued to shape the rest of his career.
Winslow Homer, who made a name for himself as an artist and reporter during the American Civil War, came to the Northeast in the mid-1940s in 1881, and originally intended to stay for 2-3 months. However, he stayed in the coastal town 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 40 years.
The National Gallery’s new exhibition, Winslow Homer: The Power of Nature, organized in collaboration with The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, will display over 50 of his paintings and watercolors from public and private collections later this year.
And a small group of these reflect his time in the Northeast when Homer joined a small artist colony and became fascinated by life on the coast.
Christopher Riopelle, National Gallery’s Curator of Post-1800 Paintings, said: “Homer had one of his paintings displayed at the Royal Academy in 1877, so I think there was some lure to come over to Britain. Why he came in 1881 , I do not think we really know – he was a very quiet guy and never explained himself.
“What’s so interesting about Cullercoats is that he ended up staying for almost two years, so it was clear he was getting something by the place.”
Across his career were Homer’s most famous works of powerful Civil War images and storms, the latter of which you can see the influence of in later works from his time in Cullercoats.
Chris continued: “What he had seen in Cullercoats, the lives of the fishing people and the life-saving brigades, remained with him, and he continued to paint pictures of people who lived at sea for a long time after.
“There are two kinds of images that are very important. One is the images of these life-saving brigades. He was really fascinated by them. Quite ordinary people who would put their lives at risk when a ship was in danger in the North Sea would put their lives on the line and save people from these boats.
“Every time the signal went and a brigade was called, he hurried down to the shore and drew while he saw what was happening.”
However, it was not only the men from the lifesaving brigades that Homer focused on, but the women who were waiting for their return.
Chris continued, “He was also very fascinated by the women who had the hard work of raising children in this inhospitable landscape, and he paints them as very heroic figures standing on the shore, hit by rain and waves.”
In fact, Homer’s painting Crazy, which depicts a fisherwoman with a child on her back and is on loan from the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts, was exhibited at both the Royal Academy and in New York in the 19th century to showcase the work he did in Cullercoats.
“It (The Gale) in some ways their (gallery) most famous painting, so we’re very happy they let it come over.”
Another Cullercoats work on display is a 1883 watercolor Inside the bar, which is on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art 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 as well as the dangers it poses to human life.
“Conflicts in human relationships, the struggle for survival and personal isolation are among his themes, treated both poetically and with dazzling technical bravura. The National Gallery is pleased to share this exhibition with The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.”
Winslow Homer: The Power of Nature takes place at the National Gallery from 10 September 2022 – 8 January 2023.
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