By John Boudreau, Communications Intern
No one knows quite why Homer decided to leave the United States to travel abroad in 1881. It wasn’t the first time he had left New York City to focus on his painting, but it was the first time he had spent significant time in another country to paint. Perhaps, as Franklin Kelly, deputy director of the National Gallery, has said, Homer set out for England because “he had come to feel that there was too much similarity in the people and the towns of America…he was seeking something new.”
Homer decided to settle in Cullercoats, a fishing village of about 2,000 people on England’s northeast coast. It was among this rugged nautical environment—perhaps not that far removed in spirit from the Maine coast where he would later settle—that Homer felt he could work best.
In a way, his trip to Cullercoats may have marked a turning point in Homer’s career. His paintings of rugged seascapes and the stolid wives of fishermen, like in Perils of the Sea (1881), were themes that he would return to later in his career—take a look at Saco Bay (1896), which is set on Maine’s coast but features women dressed similarly to Cullercoats women. Even his fascination with depicting sea rescues might be partly influenced by his time in the small village, which was home to a volunteer life-saving brigade that helped the Coast Guard rescue sailors from shipwrecks.
Homer wasn’t the first artist to settle in Cullercoats. It had been a well-known location for British artists for a decade by the time he arrived, so there was already a community of other artists who were interested in recording similar subjects. The typically reserved Homer, however, seems to have kept mostly to himself.
According to the village’s website, Homer kept a room in the Hudleston Arms hotel (number 17), and a separate studio at 12 Bank Top. Unsurprisingly, Homer’s studio was a very private place. Accessible only through one small door and partially surrounded by a retaining wall, it would have been difficult for passers-by to peer in while he was working. Naturally, the studio and his room at the Hudleston Arms had commanding views of the harbor below.
Both Homer’s old studio and the Hudleston Arms have long since been demolished, but the legacy of Cullercoats as an artists’ haven is still very much intact. A permanent Cullercoats Art Trail was recently established along the coast, allowing visitors to retrace some of Homer’s steps, and locals can point out the settings of some of his paintings. The contributions of Homer and his fellow artists were also recently celebrated in an exhibition at the Segedunum Roman Fort, Baths & Museum in the nearby town of Wallsend, proving that although he stayed only eighteen months, Homer affected Cullercoats just as much as Cullercoats affected him.
 Franklin Kelly, “A Process of Change” in Winslow Homer, eds. Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr and Franklin Kelly, (National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1995), 173.