No one really knows why, but in the spring of 1881 eminent American painter, Winslow Homer, chose to spend eighteen months of his life in the Northumberland coastal village of Cullercoats. It was a period of his life which resulted in a widely acknowledged improvement in his artistic style and not a little fame for the fishing community itself.
The Bay Hotel, demolished as recently as 2005, was the great man’s home during his extended stay (then known as the Hudleston Arms Hotel). He maintained a studio across the road at No.12 Bank Top (demolished 1930), which enjoyed fine views out to sea and over the harbour.
Homer remained in the village until November 1882. A very private man, he was left in peace by the residents, who were no doubt used to his type, Cullercoats being something of a magnet for artists during 1870-1920 (other notables included Henry H.Emmerson, Robert Jobling, Arthur H.Marsh, Isa Thompson, John Falconer Slater and John Charlton). Homer was fascinated by the disappearing old ways of the fisherfolk, especially the fisherwives, who adorn many of his canvases. The images are sober, unfancy affairs, with an edgy realism – a style which was new to the artist, and which won him much admiration on his return to the States in late 1882: “He is a very different Homer from the one we knew in days gone by”; now his pictures “touch a far higher plane...They are works of High Art.”
An apartment block called Winlsow Court now stands on the site of the old Bay Hotel.
For a selection of Homer’s paintings of the village, see www.cullercoats.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/org/homer.html ; and for general Cullercoats history see http://www.cullercoats.org.uk/ (and click on ‘history’- a good deal, too, on Homer here). More general biographical detail on the man can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winslow_Homer ; and a splendid collection of his works is hosted at http://www.winslow-homer.com/ .