Unlike some of his contemporaries, John Frederick Kensett felt no need to travel to the tropics or the American West to find compelling subjects to paint. Instead, he continually revisited several familiar locales in New York and New England where he could explore the ways in which the same motif was altered by subtle differences in light and atmosphere.
Between 1859 and 1872, Kensett produced over thirty paintings of the North Shore of Massachusetts—then a popular vacation spot for Bostonians. More than twenty works were scenes of Beverly, a coastal town twenty-five miles north of Boston. In each of these works, the dominating compositional element is a large rock formation topped by bushes and small trees at the left. A few figures engaged in various activities usually appear in the foregrounds and the right sides of the scenes are filled by an open area of water.
Beach at Beverly focuses on a rocky projection between Curtis Point and Mingo Beach on the Beverly shore. The artist's choice of an elevated viewpoint serves to lower the horizon and increase the feeling of vast space. An area of dark clouds located over the sand-colored cliff closes the left side of the painting more completely, thus providing a counterpoint to the seemingly infinite sweep of sky and sea at the right. Kensett thus presents a work in which the immediate and the imminent— the figure walking on the beach, the boats sailing on the water, and the clouds approaching from the right —blend with timeless and the permanent—the rocks, water, and sky. It is this delicate balance, depending on a highly sophisticated manipulation of composition, lighting, and paint itself, that gives Beach at Beverly an almost magical intensity and calm repose, ultimately distinguishing it as one of Kensett's most masterful achievements.
Marks and Labels
Possibly Jonathan Sturges [1802-1874], New York, and Fairfield, Connecticut; his son, Frederick Sturges [d. 1917], New York, and Fairfield, Connecticut; his son, Frederick Sturges, Jr. [1876-1977], New York, and Fairfield, Connecticut; bequest 1978 to NGA.
- American Light: The Luminist Movement, 1850-1875, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1980, 86, 115, 212, pl. 2, fig. 2, as Beach at Newport.
- John Frederick Kensett: An American Master, Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1985-1986, 135, 176, pl. 35, as Beach at Newport.
- American Paradise: The World of the Hudson River School, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1987, 158-159, as Beach at Newport.
- Loan for display with permanent collection, The Detroit Institute of Arts, 1989-1990.
- American Sublime: Landscape Painting in the United States 1820-1880, Tate Britain, London; Museum of American Art of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2002, no. 76, repro. (shown only in London).
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 186, repro.
- Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1980: 11, 90, 92, no. 27, color repro., as Beach at Newport.
- Williams 1981, 118, 120, repro. 120, as Beach at Newport
- Garrett, Elayne Genishi. "The British Sources of American Luminism." Ph.D. diss., Case Western Reserve University, 1982: 3, repro. 244, as Beach at Newport.
- Lynes, Russell. "Putting Artists in Their Places." Architectural Digest (November 1982): color repro. 64, as Beach at Newport.
- Driscoll, John Paul, and John Howat. John Frederick Kensett: An American Master. Exh. cat. Worcester Art Mus.; Los Angeles County Mus. of Art; Metropolitan Mus. of Art, New York. Worcester and New York, 1985: 135, 176, pl. 35, as Beach at Newport.
- Radaker, Kevin. "'A Separate Intention of the Eye': Luminist Eternity in Thoreau's 'A Week on the Concord and Merrimack River.'" The Canadian Review of American Studies 18 (1987): 47, repro. 48, as Beach at Newport.
- Wilmerding, John. American Marine Painting. Rev. ed. of A History of American Marine Painting, 1968. New York, 1987: 53, color repro. 54, as Beach at Newport.
- Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. Rev. ed. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1988: 106, no. 30, color repro.
- Bennewitz, Kathleen Motes. "John F. Kensett at Beverly, Massachusetts." The American Art Journal 21 (1989): 47, 59, 60, repro. 48.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 218, repro.
- Kelly, Franklin, with Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr., Deborah Chotner, and John Davis. American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1996: 394-397, color repro.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 326-327, no. 264, color repro.
The support is a medium-weight, plain-weave fabric that has been lined. The ground layer is white and was used as a visible part of the design layers in some areas, showing through in the sky and the water. Underdrawing, probably graphite, is visible to the eye in the area where the beach meets the rocks; additional underdrawing in the rocks and a horizon line is visible through infrared reflectography. The paint was applied with a variety of strokes, from very wet, fluid brushwork to dry stipple. The painting is generally in good condition, with a few scattered small losses and only minimal abrasion. The varnish has discolored.