Winslow Homer's Odyssey

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20141117

Michael Smith heads home to the North on the trail of Winslow Homer, an American artist who mysteriously spent 20 months in the Tyneside fishing village of Cullercoats.

Seen as a national treasure in the States, Homer first rose to fame with his powerful depictions of the civil war, and by the late 1870s he was America's pre-eminent watercolourist. Yet in 1881, this enigmatic and secretive artist travelled first to London then north to Cullercoats, in search of 'atmosphere and colour.'

Michael visits the Watch House and talks to local art historian Steve Radcliffe, who describes the harsh life of the fisherfolk that so fascinated him, then walks the beautiful bay with Susan Johnson, granddaughter of Homer's favourite muse, fishergirl Maggie Storey.

American author Helen Cooper, says that Homer's decision to stay on after the summer season into the wild winter weather inspired him to paint the raw power of the sea.

Homer soon came to feel at home amongst the fisherfolk of Cullercoats, donning a fisherman's gansey and playing billiards in the pub, and this change of character also signified a turning point in his career, as art historian David Tatham explains.

On his return to the States Homer continued to paint Cullercoats and soon left New York for Prout's Neck in Maine, where he spent the rest of his life painting the wild Atlantic. Karen Sherry of the Portland Museum of Art, feels his time in Cullercoats raised his art from keen observations of American life to masterful portrayals of universal themes.

Jonathon Barrand, Cullercoats resident and tourism officer who runs arts heritage tours, shares his pride and pleasure in seeing the name of his little village besides Homer's work in the great galleries of America.