Executed circa 1863.
After studying abroad in the late 1850s, William Stanley Haseltine returned to the United States to concentrate his efforts on painting the beauty of the American landscape. Traveling from Maine's Mount Desert Island to Rhode Island's Point Judith, approximately three hundred miles south, Haseltine executed a series of vivid coastal landscapes that celebrate the bold rock formations of those particular locales. Rocks at Narragansett, Rhode Island is among the finest of the canvases that Haseltine painted at this time.
Haseltine arrived in Narragansett, Rhode Island in the summer of 1862. He focused his attention not on the beach but the five mile stretch of rocks from the Narragansett Pier to Point Judith.
Hallmarks of Haseltine's art are his fidelity to natural detail and high finish, reflected in his personal interest in nature, history, and geology. He continued to study nature and geology, earning a bachelor's and master's degree from Harvard (1854 and 1858) and as a member of the Natural History Club.
In reverence of the massive rock formation and vast ocean, Haseltine painted these views with crisp detail. His remarkable accuracy was accomplished through intense study on site. Then in his studio, he worked over the surfaces with careful precision. By the time he was exhibiting in the early 1860's, critics praised his works for their veracity to the New England shorelines.
Henry T. Tuckerman, an art chronicler of the 1860s praised Haseltine's works, "The waves that roll in upon his Rhode Island crags look like old and cheery friends to the fond haunters of those shores in summer. The very sky looks like one beneath which we have watched and wandered; while there is a history to the imagination in every brown angle-projecting slab, worn, broken, ocean-minded and sun-painted ledge of the brown and picturesquely-heaped rocks, at whose feet the clear, green waters slash." (M. Simpson, Expressions of Place: The Art of William Stanley Haseltine, San Francisco, 1992, p. 16)
Rocks at Narragansett, Rhode Island is a superb example of Haseltine's mastery at precision and composition. The mass of rock formations comprise the chief subject of the painting. The rocks cross the canvas from the center right to the lower left with details of each crag of rock and the texture of the moss. The wave breaking against the rocks runs parallel to the horizon in the middle ground and the boats at the horizon serve as a visual balance to the diagonal rocks. Rocks at Narragansett, Rhode Island captures a single moment and depicts the exact light of the sun hitting the rocks and reflecting off the water at that instant.
Marc Simpson writes about Haseltine's seascapes, "Because of the close observation that underlies them, and the skill with which they are constructed, they are able to project the wonder and mystery of being at the shore." (Expressions of Place: The Art of William Stanley Haseltine, p. 27)