As to why Winslow Homer chose Cullercoats, is subject of much debate. Many try and find one reason alone, and there lies the problem. I suggest that not one, but many small occurrences led to an interest in the place. As a member of the prestigious National Academy, Homer was at the forefront of information coming into the art circles of New York. Cullercoats featured in British publications for many years preceding his visit. The Art world was in essence small, and new British publications could reach American shores within a few weeks of publication. Homer was an intensely private person, who felt compelled over the years to visit Cullercoats. A former neighbour, from his New York studio, Mauritz Frederick Hendrick De Hass (1832-1895) who in 1880 left for England and painted at Tynemouth is but one example how there was a fascination with the area.The late Tony Harrison identified a probable connection with a passenger on board Homer's vessel to Liverpool in 1881 being from Cullercoats. One of many Cullercoats connections. Homer had to visit the place, and he did indeed find what he was looking for. It changed his outlook on life, and his painting discovered greatness.
Another area of debate, but 12 Bank Top is the only address that has been consistently been mentioned over the last century. More interesting is the mistake to refer to the house as Miss Carrick's, for she became the tenant after Homer returned to America. The mistake has arisen when visitors have wanted the dwelling pointed out to them, and helpful locals pointed to 'Miss Carrick's house', the then tenant. (Miss Carrick was listed at 18 John Street in 1883 *see below).
Homer was a man of means, one of the very few artists to earn a substantial living. Having lodged at the Hudleston Arms, a studio was essential for a working artist of stature. Homer was well known for guarding the privacy of his workplace, his studio. Number12 Bank Top was described as being accessible only through a back door, and having high walls surrounding the house at the rear. It makes practical sense to have any domestic requirements such as food preperation and sleeping arrangements seperate from the work environment. Artists that were men of means did not live in their studios, they worked there. It is highly probable that Homer retained his room in the Hudleston Arms across the road, and took his meals there when required.
There is yet another myth that surrounds Homer's visit, one that was debunked as long ago as 1979**. That Homer went home to New York for the winter of '81- '82. Letters from Homer to his Boston dealer, J. Eastman Chase, during this period (written in Cullercoats) settle the matter, and confirm his residency for the winter. The dates of his visit to England are: Sailed from New York for Liverpool March 15th 1881. Sailed from Liverpool for New York November 11th 1882.
Homer stayed so long because it suited him in many ways. As a very private person, the people of Cullercoats he found to be like minded, and this offered Homer a sanctuary that allowed him to work without interuption or interference. Becoming part of an established artists colony, the Cullercoats fishing community accepted Homer without question, and the substantial output of his Cullercoats work confirms that he found a wealth of subject matter that more than suited his expectations.
New information 2003: The legal archives of North Tyneside Council, as successors to the old Tynemouth Borough Council, revealed information concerning the long demolished number 12 Bank Top. A deed of sale between the then owner, James A. Dewar, and the purchasers, Tynemouth B.C. dated 19th July 1929 reads:
..All those three dwellinghouses and premises known as numbers 11, 12 and 13 The Cliff Cullercoats in the County of Northumberland which said dwellinghouses and premises were formally described as 'all those three messuages or dwellinghouses situate and being numbers 10, 11 and 12 on the Sea Bank or Bank Top Cullercoats in the County of Northumberland formally in the occupation of Mrs Welsh and Miss Ann Clayton or her under-tenants and now in the occupation of Claud Wilkinson, J. Carrick and H. Welsh as tenants thereof Boundering on the Sea Banks on the East on the Queens Highway on the South on a Back Lane on the West and on other hereditaments now formally belonging to Mary Bainbridge on the North'.
This means no matter what the numbering, Miss Jane Carrick occupied the middle property, and this establishes the location of the studio occupied by Homer during his stay.
** Life and Work of Winslow Homer, Gordon Hendricks (1979) . * Miss Carrick listed 12 Bank Top, Kelly's Directory 1886. And in deed of sale dated 19th July 1929 as tenant of. This conveyance about 12 Bank Top found 13/11/03. Copy of, and other information found, has been lodged with Local Studies, North Shields Central Library. S.Ratcliffe 14th November 2003
ęSteve Ratcliffe 2003
ęSparra Hall Publications 2003