William Stanley Haseltine (1835–1900)

Rocks at Nahant, 1864

Oil on canvas, 22 3/8 x 40 1/2 in. (56.8 x 102.9 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1999.65

William Stanley Haseltine, of the later Hudson River school, is best known for his paintings of America’s northeastern coast. His works are remarkable for their focus on rock formations, a subject of considerable popular and scientific interest in mid-nineteenth-century America. Rocks at Nahant is one of a group of his paintings that depict, in meticulous detail and under various atmospheric conditions, the shore of Nahant, Massachusetts. Smooth diagonal slabs of reddish igneous stone and vestiges of prehistoric volcanic and glacial activity disrupt the broad horizontal composition of ocean and sky. Two diminutive figures and several sailboats on the horizon lend a sense of scale to this juncture of bare rock and sea. Influenced by the popular theories of the Swiss-born Harvard scientist Louis Agassiz (1807–1873), who saw in Nahant’s rocks evidence of a universal ice age, Haseltine intended the image as an artful meditation on geologic history anchored in contemporary human time.

Learn more about this painting on the Terra Foundation website.