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Winslow Homer's Sparrow Hall

Winslow Homer (1836-1910), Sparrow Hall, c. 1881-1882, oil on canvas, John Wilmerding Collection

In March of 1881 the artist sailed from New York to London. He settled in the village of Cullercoats on the North Sea, just below the Scottish border. The tightly knit community consisted mainly of fishermen and their families. In this painting, several women are knitting or darning near the entrance to a seventeenth-century cottage called Sparrow Hall; on the steps, a girl protectively steadies a younger child who dangles a bit of blue yarn in front of a calico cat.

Such hearty, industrious women were a constant source of inspiration to Homer. During the year and a half he remained in Cullercoats, the artist produced some of his most lyrically beautiful work. Sparrow Hall, wonderfully conceived, brightly colored, and superbly painted, stands very high among those works, and indeed among Homer's images from any period. This is one of the few finished oils produced in Cullercoats; most of his work abroad was done in watercolor. Homer's stay in Cullercoats marked a critical turning point in the artist's career; upon his return to the United States, his painting took on a newfound sense of gravity and monumentality that would characterize his mature style.

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