Winslow Homer in Cullercoats: 7 Missing months

Winslow Homer (1836–1910), A Fishergirl Baiting Lines (1881), watercolor, 31.8 × 48.3 cm, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT. Wikimedia Commons.

In an earlier article on Winslow Homer’s nineteen months stay in Cullercoats, on the English north-east coast, I mentioned some remaining puzzles.

Among these were whether he had travelled much beyond Cullercoats, and his apparently uneven production of paintings in 1881 and 1882. I wrote there:
His production during that time also changed considerably. As most of his sketches and paintings are signed and dated by year, I have looked at the dates attributed to them for the paintings which I have shown here. Twenty-four, almost three-quarters, are dated 1881, and only eight in 1882. The great majority of his paintings included in the references were also dated 1881. Does this mean that he painted fewer in 1882, that many of those painted that year have been lost or destroyed, or that private collectors have amassed his work from that year disproportionately?

I have now been able to analyse the drawings and paintings listed by the late Tony Harrison in his monograph on Homer’s sojourn in England. Throughout this, I will assume for the sake of simplicity that none of those works has been lost or was destroyed, thus that Harrison’s list is a complete account of Homer’s work in and on English locations.

Excluding rough sketches and undated works, Harrison shows a total of 85 paintings made in England or using motifs from his stay in England, of which 24 were drawings, 54 watercolours, and 7 oils. In 1881, he made only 5 drawings, but 31 watercolours, and 2 oils; the following year he made 15 drawings, 9 watercolours, and three oils, including Hark! The Lark! (1882) for exhibition at the Royal Academy in London.

Winslow Homer (1836–1910), Hark! The Lark! (1882), oil on canvas, 92.39 × 79.69 cm, Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI. Wikimedia Commons.

This is a curious reversal of what might have been expected, with earlier production of more drawings, and later of more watercolours and oils.

Of the 54 watercolours he produced, 57% date from 1881, 17% from 1882, and 26% from 1883, when he was back in the USA. In 1881, he painted an average of 3.4 watercolours per month, which fell to less than 1 per month in 1882.

Winslow Homer (1836–1910), Fisherfolk on the Beach at Cullercoats (1881), watercolor and graphite on paper, 34.13 × 49.37 cm, Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA. Wikimedia Commons.

Looking at the main themes in his drawings and paintings, 10 out of his 11 complex motifs with fishwives and boats were made in 1881, when his work was more varied and included 3 of fishermen in oilskins, and 3 of fishermen and boats, for example. In 1882, nearly two-thirds of all his works were of women walking and watching (1881, only 21%).

Harrison reviewed previous considerations of Homer’s activity during the winter of 1881-2, and concludes that there is good, but not conclusive, evidence that Homer was away from Cullercoats for a period between late November 1881 and February 1882. He suggests that Homer did not return to the US, but met with his brother Charles and his wife in France.

Unfortunately this still does not explain the very small number of watercolours which remain from Homer’s work in 1882, as it only shortens his time in Cullercoats in 1882 from 10 to 8 months, for which a total of 9 watercolours remains exceedingly low, and low in comparison with his output the previous year.

Winslow Homer (1836–1910), The Return, Tynemouth (1881), transparent watercolor, with touches of opaque watercolor, rewetting, blotting, and scraping, heightened with gum glaze, over graphite, on moderately thick, moderately-textured, ivory wove paper (left and lower edges trimmed), 34.2 × 34.3 cm, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL. Wikimedia Commons.

One explanation may be in the dispersal of his paintings from the two years. In October (or early November) 1881, Homer sent 30 watercolours to his New York agent, J Eastman Chase, via Samuel T Preston of New York. These included his watercolour output for 1881, except for the Wreck of the Iron Crown (1881), which was sent in February 1882. Together, these match the 31 watercolours recorded by Harrison for 1881, suggesting that (almost) all are accounted for and still exist today.

There do not appear to be any records of the shipping or dispersal of Homer’s watercolours painted in 1882. It is quite feasible that the majority of them did not arrive in the US, or perhaps that, on arrival, the majority was purchased by a single collector, whose collection has yet to become known. I would hazard a guess that those potentially missing watercolours include a wider range of motifs, including complex scenes of fishwives with boats, and some more showing fishermen.

Winslow Homer (1836–1910), Four Fishwives (1881), watercolor on paper, 45.72 × 71.1 cm, Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, Scripps College, Claremont, CA. Wikimedia Commons.

Now there’s a tantalising thought, that someone somewhere might have a number of unseen watercolours painted by Winslow Homer in Cullercoats.


Cikovsky, Jr, N, Kelly F et al. (1995) Winslow Homer, Yale UP. ISBN 978 0 3000 6555 8.
Griffin RC (2006) Winslow Homer, An American Vision, Phaidon Press. ISBN 978 0 7148 3992 9.
Harrison T (1983, 2004) Winslow Homer in England, Hornby Editions. ISBN 978 0 9636 4143 4.
Tedeschi M and others (2008) Watercolors by Winslow Homer. The Color of Light, Yale UP. ISBN 978 0 300 11945 9.