Educators Smithsonian Education
Landscape Painting: Artists Who Love the Land
Lesson Plan 2

The Rocky Shore


  • To compare a realistic landscape painting with a photograph of the same place.
  • To use space tricks to create a landscape painting.

Art, geography

1. Introduce Winslow Homer's High Cliff, Coast of Maine by giving each student a photocopy of Activity Page 2. Ask students to describe the cliff that slopes down to meet the ocean. Is it smooth or rough? How steep is it? If they went for a walk on the lower part of this cliff, would they want to wear shoes?

2. Use a map of Maine to point out Prout's Neck, a rocky peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean just south of Portland. High Cliff, the subject of Homer's painting, is the steepest rock wall on Prout's Neck. During storms, the waves crash up against it.

3. Use the "About the artists" section in the Introduction to tell students about Winslow Homer. Ask them to imagine that they are standing close enough to the bottom of the painting to get their feet wet. How long would it take them to walk to the top of the painting? Make sure they look closely at the upper right-hand corner-they will find a surprising clue.

4. Have students read Homer's words below his painting on Activity Page 2. Ask them how the artistic methods of Homer differ from those of Bierstadt. To extend the activity, have students stage a mock debate between the two artists to argue the advantages and disadvantages of composing landscape paintings indoors and outdoors.

5. Ask them to compare Homer's painting of High Cliff with a 1938 photograph of High Cliff taken from the same point Winslow Homer of view. Discuss the weather in each picture. What was it like on the day Homer made his painting? What was it like on the day the photograph was taken? Ask students how Homer's painting emphasizes the way that the sea and land cut into each other.

6. Have students look for a horizon line in the photograph and in Homer's painting. Discuss how the artist's elimination of a horizon line allows him to fit in more of the rough ocean. Read space trick 5 to students:

Space trick 5
Homer makes the scene appear to stretch far back into space by using a diagonal line between land and sea.  
Ask students to imagine the line separating land and sea as horizontal instead of diagonal. How far back would the land take them? If the land were horizontal, would the three figures look like full-sized people or small dolls?
7. Hand out copies of the Take-Home Page and tell students that they will each be creating their own interpretation of the scene on that page as homework or in class. First, have them imagine walking around in the photograph, asking themselves the following questions: Where would I go first? Is the land hilly or flat? What is growing in this place? What is the weather like? Does anything about this place puzzle or surprise me? Remind students of the five space tricks that landscape artists use. Have them try to incorporate these tricks into their own interpretation of the picture.

8. In class, discuss and compare students' interpretations. Refer to the Nast print on the cover, which shows how every artist sees a landscape from his or her own point of view.

Required Materials


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