Homer was the master portrayer of outdoor life in America in the nineteenth
century. He painted summer resorts and farms, the coasts, the forests,
the mountains, and the hardy men who inhabited them--sailors, fishermen,
and woodsmen--with such a fresh approach and boldness of vision that
his work now ranks among the highest achievements in American art.
While man's relationship to nature always held a fascination for Homer,
it was the awesome power of the sea that dominated his mature canvases.
He spent the last twenty years of his life in remote Prout's Neck,
Maine, where he came to know intimately the rocky coastline and its
In High Cliff, Homer allows us neither distance nor escape.
He provides us with no easy entry into the picture's space. We are
thrust into the midst of the drama being enacted before us: the relentless
crash of the surf against the implacable rock. Our view is close-up,
cropped, and devoid of any superficial details that might compete
for attention. The strong diagonal composition and the use of contrasting
colors--the muted blue-green water clashing with the dark brown of
the rocks--are technical devices that heighten the work's tension.
The wet cliff glistening in the light, the threatening waves, and
the bursting spray, modeled with broad, robust brushwork, convey the
scene's intense energy.
At the top of the cliff small figures stand, dwarfed by the isolation
and loneliness of the landscape. Throughout his work Homer pondered
the insignificance and transience of man in relation to the eternal
forces of nature.
Source: Nora Panzer, American Landscapes: Nineteenth-century Selections
(Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution,