Martin Johnson Heade, Singing Beach, Manchester, 1863
Oil on canvas, 20 x 36 in. (50.8 x 91.4 cm). Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd, 1993.35.12
Here we see the power of the ocean and our inconsequentiality before it. The beach is deserted except for the viewer's presence, and the fringe of white foam at the water's edge, all but invisible in the harsh glare of midday, glows under the low light of dusk. Figures are visible in the distance—two men sit in a small rowboat—but they are dwarfed by nature's expanse. Heade is one of a number of American artists who have been grouped together as “luminists.” While these artists never worked as a school—they did not necessarily know each other--their work shares a number of formal characteristics: pronounced horizontal format, absence of visible brushstrokes, and a close attention to the qualities and effects of light.
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