Disarming in its simplicity and stripped of all staging and framing devices, John Frederick Kensett’s Sunset on The Sea (1872) draws the viewer into a direct experience of nature in a depiction of a radiant sun suspended above the open ocean. Kensett resisted adding his characteristic small sailboats or landmasses to the composition; divorcing the scene from a specific location, he moved toward abstraction.
Seamlessly blending sea and sky, warmth and coolness, stillness and drama, the work seems to reverberate with Kensett’s earlier encounter with the atmospheric landscapes of the British artist JMW Turner, which the artist saw on his initial trip to London in 1840. Part of a group known as his Last Summer’s Work, it is probably Kensett’s most radical portrayal among his explorations of Connecticut’s coastal landscape and was found in his studio at the time of his death. The painting was mentioned at his memorial service, when it was described as “Pure light and water.”
Sunset on The Sea was Photographed in The Met Breuer (former home of The Whitney Museum), in Manhattan, where it is part of the Museum’s Inaugural Exhibit, Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible. The piece is part of the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, also in New York City.