Newport Rocks, ca. 1872
John Frederick Kensett (American, 1816–1872)
Oil on canvas; 31 x 48 in. (78.7 x 121.9 cm)
Gift of Thomas Kensett Gift, 1874 (74.6)
The austere composition of this painting and of Kensett's A Foggy Sky may represent the most familiar type in the artist's output and was introduced as early as the mid-1850s following his initial visits to Newport, Rhode Island, and Shrewsbury River on New Jersey's northern shore. The type was unquestionably popular with patrons. Kensett repeated it with only nominal variations until his death in 1872 and the numbers of such views, relative to his total output, only increased through the Civil War years. For the artist's clients, the simple arrangement of rocks at either side against the apparent infinitude of an ocean horizon must have appealed in tumultuous times to yearnings for stability, certitude, peace, and the eternal. For Kensett, outdoors and in his studio, the control of the simple setting supplied a tabula rasa for articulating shifting complexions of light and atmosphere.