Winslow Homer (American, 18361910)
Watercolor and graphite on off–white wove paper; 16 x 29 in. (40.6 x 73.7 cm)
Gift of Louise Ryals Arkell, in memory of her husband, Bartlett Arkell, 1954 (54.183)
In 1881, Homer traveled to England on his second and final trip abroad. For reasons both personal and professional, he sought a place of retreat. After passing briefly through London, he settled in Cullercoats, a village near Tynemouth on the North Sea, remaining there from the spring of 1881 to November 1882. Situated on sandstone cliffs above a small bay, Cullercoats was a fishing community, which, like nearby Tynemouth, attracted artists and photographers in search of the picturesque. Homer soon became sensitive to the strenuous and courageous lives of its inhabitants, particularly the women, whom he depicted hauling and cleaning fish, mending nets, and, most poignantly, standing at the water's edge, awaiting the return of their men.
In Cullercoats, Homer worked almost exclusively in watercolor. On large sheets such as this one, he perfected traditional English techniques, laying out compositions with broad, overlapping washes of color. The seriousness of his art increased and his figures became more monumental and strongly modeled. He made a number of watercolors from his Cullercoats studies after his return home, including this grand example. In such watercolors executed abroad and back in the United States, the major theme of Homer's mature years evolved: the dramatic, and sometimes tragic, confrontation of people and nature.