Arthur Hughes' oil painting Home from the Sea depicts a scene of a sailor and a woman — presumably his wife — mourning in a churchyard cemetery. The woman's black funerary outfit, pained expression, folded hands and downcast eyes convey a deep yet controlled sense of mourning. The sailor, still in his uniform, has his facial expression hidden from the viewer, but his closed lips and folded hands suggest restrained or internalized grieving. The emotional dynamics between the woman, the sailor and the object of his mourning is subtly presented, however, and the painting's shadows establish the foreground scene as an afterthought to the brilliant background.

The sun glares off the white wall of the church, and the surrounding trees are rendered in photo-realistic detail, texture and depth. Glowing light in the background grabs the viewers' eyes and holds them on the detailed scenery as white headstones and sheep reveal themselves next. In comparison to the texture and realism of the background setting, the details of the foreground mourning scene — and the dandelions at the bottom of the painting, in particular — appear out of focus (in this on-line reproduction, at least). The foreground captivates the viewer with deep emotional appeal, but the background's exquisite detail distracts viewers' attention with its magnetic aesthetic appeal.

Questions

1. Why is the background landscape so illuminated and highly detailed? Does the effect set Home from the Sea apart from other paintings done by Hughes and his peers?

2. If we read the painting for plot, is there any indication of who the sailor is mourning? One other site (humanitiesweb.org) displays the painting with the caption "A young sailor has come home from sea and lies weeping on the grave of his mother." Is there any evidence in the painting to substantiate that claim? Does Hughes further discuss the scene in writing?

3. All but one of the listed examples of Hughes' paintings is set outside; some show no trace of human activity. Does the focus on background in Home from the Sea reflect the artist's personal aesthetic or thematic preferences?

4. What role are the sheep playing in the scene? Are they fulfilling a PRB-prescribed role as naturally integrated symbols? If so, what do they signify?


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Last modified 2 February 2009