Mole, John Henry
Watercolor and graphite on paper
13 7/8 x 21 5/8 inches
Wichita Art Museum, Museum purchase, Director's Discretionary Fund
Not Currently on Display
About the Artwork
In 1859, the noted British watercolorist John Henry Mole executed this work depicting a scene on the beach at Hastings in Sussex, England. Here the treatment is quite literal with a massive rock, known as East Cliff, shown on the left overlooking a flat sandy beach that stretches into the distance toward the sea. In the foreground a fisherman is seen walking at a slight diagonal toward the viewer and carrying fishing nets over his shoulders and a boat hook pole in his right hand. At the extreme right, a second fisherman rests by the capstan. Particularly pleasing to the eye are the subdued but sensitively harmonized colors, the successfully rendered outdoor light and the convincing textural qualities of such forms as the wooden capstan, the marshy inlet at low tide, the scattered rocks along the beach and the soft golden brown sand.
Midway between the walking fisherman and the craggy cliff on the left, two barely visible figures are seated, and the contrasting scale here clearly discloses the vast spatial distance encompassed within this composition. Indeed, contrast is a key characteristic of this work — contrast between the gigantic and the tiny, between the eternal and the transient, between the brutal and the gentle. But certainly, the most significant feature is the powerful opposition between the treacherously steep but awe-inspiring cliff on the one hand and the terrifying expanse of open space, which stretches infinitely toward and beyond the horizon on the other. Yet, at the same time, these two opposing entities appear to unify the composition by virtue of their common characteristics of immensity and grandiosity. To the mid-Victorian mind these qualities stimulated an emotional state akin to the sublime and one, which seemingly, was regarded as more powerful than the beautiful itself. While this notion as employed here had considerable appeal during much of the nineteenth century, it was actually inherited from the philosophic outlook of nearly a century earlier as found in the theoretical teachings of such writers as Edmund Burke, William Gilpin and Uvedale Price.
John Henry Mole was born in Northumberland in 1814 and died in London in 1886. In 1848, he was elected to full membership in the New Watercolor Society, where he exhibited regularly. In 1884 he became vice president of the New Watercolor Society, by then known officially as the Royal Institute. His watercolors are in major museum collections throughout Britain, Europe, and the United States.