William Holman Hunt’s 1852 painting, Our English Coasts (Strayed Sheep), captures a peaceful moment at the Lovers’ Seat in Fairlight Glen, Sussex. The canvas showcases the rugged coastline and depicts a group of sheep that seem to have wandered away from their owner. Hunt paid great attention to capturing natural detail, reflected in his portrayal of cliffs, sheep, and butterflies from different viewpoints. Interestingly, the landscape’s only inhabitants are these straying sheep; no human figures appear in the painting.
The artwork was displayed at the Royal Academy Exhibition in 1853 under its present name. While Hunt’s naturalistic style is evident throughout this piece, it has also been interpreted as a satire on Britain’s lackadaisical attempts to protect its coastal borders against potential foreign invasion during that time. Our English Coasts (Strayed Sheep) shows an incredibly calm scene with mild colors abounding all over but can be read as a statement on British preparedness for attack.
The Tate Gallery has owned this oil-on-canvas painting since 1946 after it was obtained through The Art Fund. William Holman Hunt spent several months working on creating this painting despite harsh weather conditions until he finally produced one of his most celebrated works that received critical acclaim across art circles globally.