Sunlight on the Coast

Winslow Homer1890

The Toledo Museum of Art

The Toledo Museum of Art


  • Title: Sunlight on the Coast
  • Creator: Winslow Homer
  • Date Created: 1890
  • Location Created: North America
  • Physical Dimensions: w1233 x h769 cm (Complete)
  • Catalogue entry: The image of the ocean crashing against the coast intrigued Winslow Homer from the time he moved to the rugged peninsula of Prout's Neck, Maine, in 1883. A few years earlier (1881-1883) Homer had lived in the English coastal fishing village of Cullercoats on the North Sea, painting the sea mostly as a backdrop for the people who lived there. Only in 1890, beginning with Sunlight on the Coast, did Homer shift away from essentially narrative subjects to focus on the pure seascape elements of rock, light, water, and sky. The subject of Sunlight on the Coast is the never-ending battle between the sea and the shore, captured under specific conditions of light and weather. The painting's simplified composition, strong linear rhythms, earth-toned harmonies, and broadly textured brushwork determine its particular mood. A heavy blue-green wave rolls in and breaks over a shelf of brown rocks, spewing foam and spray. Homer successfully conveyed the wave's heaving, weighty mass and the iridescence of the swirling countercurrent. The wave's bulk, its powerful sliding, rolling motion, and its suction force as it funnels in on itself represent nature's might. Homer's title for his painting seems curious. Sunlight barely pierces the darkness, although it transforms the backwash of one wave into a glittering surface and illuminates a portion of the sea and a steamship on the distant horizon. This diagonal recession in space from the dark lower left to the light upper right runs counter to the angle of the wave and conveys the vastness of the sea. As in the paintings that were to follow Sunlight on the Coast, Homer's depiction of the forceful interplay between the sea and the shore is an image of contemplation that manifests aspects of man's relationship with nature.
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey
  • External Link: http://classes.toledomuseum.org:8080/emuseum/view/objects/asitem/121/0
  • Medium: Oil on canvas


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