The Stalwart and Stolid Women of Cullercoats

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The Stalwart and Stolid Women of Cullercoats

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Winslow Homer (1836-1910) Watching from the Cliffs, 1881 Watercolor on medium wheigh white watercolor paper,  13" x 19" Bequest of Anne Cannon Reynolds Forsyth 2003.2.1

In Watching from the Cliffs, Homer suggests a common narrative for fishing communities: women and children waiting anxiously for the successful return of the men with their catch. In this image, a Cullercoats fishwife stands on a hilltop and watches for the return of her husband. She has a baby enfolded in her strong arms; a younger woman sits on the ground below her. Both figures are backlit against a blue sky with scattered clouds. The underlying darkness of earth against bright sky might suggest the unease that Cullercoats women felt until their men returned home again, safe, from the sea.

The residents of Cullercoats were dependent on the sea for their livelihood, and shipwrecks and storms were an ever-present threat. As in many of Homer’s watercolors, the viewer is held in suspension, not knowing the outcome, but if the gesture of the young girl to the right—rather awkwardly rendered—is any indication, there is cause for worry. In Cullercoats, the stalwart and stolid women worked just as hard as the men; they contrasted dramatically with the young women Homer had painted earlier frolicking on American beaches.

Watercolors, smaller and more portable than oil paints, proved extremely useful to Winslow Homer as he traveled in this country and abroad. He took up the medium seriously in the mid-1870s because of its practicality.  In the spring of 1881, he found himself along the northeast coast of England in the town of Cullercoats, drawn to the inspiration he found in this hardy group of Northumberland fisherfolk whose living depended upon the sea.  

Share Watching from the Cliffs with your mother and family. Visit Written with Water: American Watercolors from Homer to Close, on view in the Museum’s West Bedroom Gallery now through September 14, 2014.

Image Credit: Winslow Homer (1836-1910), Watching from the Cliffs, 1881, Watercolor on paper, 13 x 19 in. (33 x 48.3 cm) Bequest of Anne Cannon Reynolds Forsyth, 2003.2.1.

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