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“Our English Coasts” by William Holman Hunt

"Our English Coasts" by William Holman Hunt

“Our English Coasts” by William Holman Hunt

“Our English Coasts” by William Holman Hunt depicts a flock of sheep lining the picturesque coast of Sussex. The scenic location is on the cliffs at Fairlight Glen, beside Covehust Bay near Hastings, which is called the Lovers’ Seat.

Hunt worked en plein air at the location depicted in late 1852, despite cold and rainy weather. Hunt has paid scrupulous attention to natural detail and painted in many layers, with brilliant colors.

The painting combines features from different vantage points, with butterflies added in the studio modeled from life.

This painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy under the title “Our English Coasts.” Still, the frame bore the inscription “The Lost Sheep,” and it was later renamed “Strayed Sheep” when it was exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1855.

The writer and critic John Ruskin (1819-1900) urged young English artists to:

“go to Nature in all singleness of heart, and walk with her laboriously and trustingly, having no other thoughts but how best to penetrate her meaning, and remember her instructions; rejecting nothing, selecting nothing, and scorning nothing; believing all things to be right and good, and always rejoicing in the truth.”

Following Ruskin’s dictum that art in its truthfulness can teach a moral lesson, Hunt created this magnificent Pre-Raphaelite landscape.

The treatment of light was the most striking aspect of the painting for the critics of the time. Ruskin wrote that:

“It showed to us, for the first time in the history of art, the absolutely faithful balances of color and shade by which actual sunshine might be transposed into a key in which the harmonies possible with material pigments should yet produce the same impressions upon the mind which were caused by the light itself.”

William Holman Hunt

William Holman Hunt (1827 – 1910) was an English painter and one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. His paintings were notable for their great attention to detail, vivid color, and symbolism.

These features were influenced by the writings of John Ruskin and Thomas Carlyle, according to whom the world itself should be read as a system of visual signs.

Of all the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Hunt remained most true to their ideals throughout his career. He was always keen to maximize the popular appeal and public visibility of his works.


The Pre-Raphaelites focused on painting subjects from modern life, and literature often used historical costumes for accuracy. They painted directly from nature itself, as accurately as possible, and with intense attention to detail.

The Pre-Raphaelites defined themselves as a reform movement, created a distinct name for their art, and published a periodical to promote their ideas.

The Pre-Raphaelites was a group of English painters, poets, and art critics, founded in 1848. The group intended to reform art by rejecting what it considered the mechanistic approach first adopted by the artists who succeeded Raphael and Michelangelo, hence the name “Pre-Raphaelite.”

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood sought a return to the abundant detail, intense colors, and complex compositions of Pre-Raphaelite Italian art.

Our English Coasts

  • Title:                  Our English Coasts
  • Also:                 Strayed Sheep or Strayed Sheep
  • Artist:               William Holman Hunt
  • Date:                1852
  • Medium:          Oil on canvas
  • Style:                Pre-Raphaelite
  • Dimensions:     Height: 432 mm (17 in); Width: 584 mm (22.99 in)
  • Museum:         Tate Britain

William Holman Hunt

Hunt, Our English Coasts, “Strayed Sheep”

A Virtual Tour of Pre-Raphaelite Artists

John Everett Millais

William Holman Hunt

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Holman Hunt, ‘Our English Coasts (Strayed Sheep)’, 1852

John William Waterhouse

Marie Spartali Stillman

Ford Madox Brown

Henry Holiday

Edward Burne-Jones

William Holman Hunt: A collection of works 


“When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.”
– John Ruskin


Photo Credit: William Holman Hunt [Public domain]

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