Born into a family of engravers, John Frederick Kensett entered the same trade at an early age. However, in spite of his family's prominence in the field, he lacked enthusiasm for it, and maintained a keen interest in studying art throughout his youth. In 1840, at the age of twenty-four, Kensett left the United States and his career as an accomplished engraver to study art seriously in the academies and museums in Europe. By the time he returned to the United States, after seven years of rigorous study and practice, he "was recognized as a master of landscape." (J.P. Driscoll and J.K. Howatt, John Frederick Kensett, An American Master, New York, 1985, p. 35)
Intensely interested in the various possibilities for landscape, Kensett went on to develop his own very personal style. The changeable qualities of light and atmosphere became central to his work, for he considered them concrete elements of the landscape. More specifically, "he became well known for his ability to endow a scene with his own tranquil, poetic feeling. (He) shifted from the more conventional anecdotal picturesque mode derived from the tradition of Cole and Durand, to the quiet openness, light, and simplification of form, color, and composition that is now recognized as his mature style and associated with the phenomenon of 'luminism.'" (John Frederick Kensett, An American Master, p. 99)
Near Newport, Rhode Island, No. 9 embodies the main principles of Kensett's ideology. Central to Kensett's luminist works, the composition is reduced almost to abstraction, making the subtle gradations of color the key to comprehending the work. The composition is devoid of any human presence, forcing the viewer to acknowledge the omnipresence of nature. The only reference to mankind's existence is the group of man-made sailboats that dot the horizon, however, they are barely noticeable against the vast ocean and sky. Taking another step to abstract the composition, Kensett has deftly juxtaposed the proximity of the foreground with the horizon in the far distance. This has the effect of leading the viewer from the closest point in the foreground to the farthest distance, again emphasizing nature's immeasurable size.
Newport, Rhode Island with its long stretches of sandy beaches was the natural choice for Kensett to develop his luminist theories for "the shores and headlines of New England naturally lent themselves to his heightened preoccupation with light, color, and reflective surfaces. Such scenery also met his compelling desire to reduce compositions to nature's basic components--earth, water, and sky--which in their inherent emotional and philosophical content expressed the artist's convictions concerning nature's tranquil sublimity." (John Frederick Kensett, An American Master, p. 99)