Above: Detail of 'Bikes on the Beach, Old Grimsby, Tresco' by John Dyer. 24 x 36 inches acrylic on board
Throughout art history, the beach and sea have been popular subjects for painters worldwide. The beauty and character of seaside towns and villages have been depicted over the years by many artists - from the French Impressionists and post-impressionists on the southern coast of France, Normandy and Pont Aven in Brittany, to the Newlyn School of Painters in Cornwall in the southwest of England. From Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso to JMW Turner and the Newlyn School of painters, the beach has been a source of inspiration. In this blog, we will look at some of our favourite paintings of the beach.
Famous Beach Paintings by the French Impressionists
As with a lot of famous figurative modern art, impressionist paintings have played an enormous part in art history. The sheer spontaneity, broken brushwork and thought-provoking images in their famous paintings have inspired generations of artists.
Above: 'Plage à Marée Basse' (1869) by Edgar degas (1834-1917)
The impressionist movement and its modern style of painting lent itself well to capturing the atmosphere and light of their subjects. Many of the impressionists painted en plein air their local seaside locations, including fishing boats, and beach scenes, with women on the beach and children playing. Many of the beach scene paintings that are most well-known were painted in Brittany and Normandy by Claude Monet and his impressionist contemporaries.
Above: 'The Beach at Sainte-Adresse (1867) by Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926). Available as an open-edition art print.
Above: 'Low Tide at Trouville' by Gustave Courbet (French, 1819-1877)
Above: 'Children Playing on the Beach' by Mary Cassatt (American, 1844-1926)
Above: 'La Sortie des Barques à Trouville, (1893) by Eugène Boudin (French, 1824-1898). Available as an open-edition fine art print
Above: 'Scene de Plage, Trouville (1942) by Paul-Elie Gernez (French, 1888-1948|)
The beach at Trouville was a very popular place to paint. Although painted in 1942, this painting by French artist Gernez fits in very much with the impressionist style of beach paintings from the late 19th century.
The Newlyn School of Painters
In the late 1800s a group of British artists settled in the fishing village of Newlyn in Cornwall, calling themselves 'The Newlyn School of Painters'. The style of painting developed by this school was heavily influenced by both french Impressionism and realism, with its strong use of colour and light effects, to depict scenes of the working class fishing communities of Cornwall. The Newlyn painters captured the essence of the fishing villages and surrounding beaches, focusing on light and atmosphere and narrating the stories of the local people.
Above: 'Fishing Boats, Newlyn' by Harold Harvey (English, 1874–1941). Available as an open-edition art print.
Walter Langley and Edwin Harris, both from Birmingham, arrived in 1882 and 1883 respectively and set up what we still know today as the 'Newlyn School of Artists'. They wanted to set up a comune similar to the ones in Concarneau and Pont-Aven where they had been greatly impressed by the open air painting style of their French realism contemporaries championed by Jules Bastien-Lepage.
Pont Aven colony
Artists began forming a colony in Pont-Aven in the late 1860s. Some artists went there to escape the high cost of living and crowds in Paris from the previous decade, but it wasn't easy to reach Pont-Aven until 1862 when the railway connected Quimper with Paris. (A similar pattern occurred in Penzance in 1859 and in St Ives in 1877, when the railway arrived in these Cornish towns)
Following the extension of the Great Western Railway to West Cornwall, the fishing towns of St Ives and Newlyn in Cornwall were magnets for painters because of the allure of the landscape, ethereal light, unpretentious lifestyle, and mighty ocean.
Above: 'The Terminus Penzance Station' by Stanhope Alexander Forbes, (English, 1857-1947)
For many years Pont Aven was famous for its artist colony. Many influential artists were attracted to work there. One of the most well-known and respected members of the Pont Aven School of Painting was Paul Gauguin. In the late 1880s his work was one of its main focuses.
Above: 'Women Bathing' by Paul Gauguin, (French, 1848-1903)
Above: 'Vahine no te miti' ('Woman at the Beach') by Paul Gauguin - 1848-1903
Gauguin spent 10 years towards the end of his career in French Polynesia, where he painted local people and landscapes, his most famous being of Tahitian women. The above painting depicts a local woman on a sandy beach.
French realism and its influence on the Newlyn School
The rustic, peasant lifestyle was a popular theme for French artists and their patrons alike, starting with the Barbizon School and French Realist painters in the mid-1800s. This style of painting theme portrayed people living traditional lives with rural stability during a time of rapid industrialization and urbanization.
Above: 'Hay Making' by Jules Bastian-Lepage (1848-1884)
The Newlyn School artists used the same theme of depicting the working class in their daily activities as the French Realists, basing their work on the everyday activities of the local fishermen and their families. They also painted outdoors in the same way as the Impressionists in France.
Above: 'The Mariners Sunday School' by William Holt Yates Titcomb
William Holt Yates Titcomb was a member of the ‘Newlyn School’ of artists. He painted in Newlyn, Cornwall, at the end of the 1900s.
Titcomb's large-scale painting captures the attention with its use of light and shadow, revealing a hidden group illuminated by a window. In this painting, Titcomb has deliberately studied the features of the characters, and there is a definite difference between the ageing of some of the faces compared to the fresh-faced youngsters.
The Newlyn School
Stanhope Alexander Forbes arrived in Cornwall in 1884 and is commonly known as 'the father' of the Newlyn School. He set up the school with fellow artists Frank Bramley, Frederick Hall, Albert Chevalier Tayler, Frank Richards, Thomas Cooper Gotch, Elizabeth Forbes and Henry Scott Tuke as part of this artists' colony.
Walter Langley was also one of the first to settle in the Newlyn artists' colony Newlyn School. His work was mainly created in watercolour rather than the more prestigious medium of oils. He related well to the subjects he painted because he came from a working-class background himself.
Above: 'The Old Weighing House' (1822) by Stanhope Alexander Forbes (1857-1947)
Above: 'Beach Scene, St Ives' by Stanhope Alexander Forbes (1857-1947)
Above: 'A Village Idyll' by Walter Langley (English, 1852-1922)
In 'A Village Idyll', as in many of Walter Langley's paintings, the sea stretches into the background. His work often depicts characters working while walking along the beach at Marazion.
Above: 'Autumn Sunlight, Sennen Cove, Cornwall' by Laura Knight (1877-1970)
In the late nineteenth century, Newlyn was one of the leading avante garde art colonies in the country and dominated national showcases such as the Royal Academy exhibitions.
Paintings of Beaches by our Gallery Artists
All of our artists live and paint in Cornwall and are inspired by the Cornish coast. The contemporary art created by John Dyer, Joanne Short and Ted Dyer features many of the most popular beaches in Cornwall and the artists' interpretation of these beaches on canvas is widely acclaimed.
John Dyer has lived in Cornwall from a very early age and attended Falmouth School of Art where he developed his love of painting and the Cornish coast.
Joanne Short is one of Cornwall's best loved artists and her colourist paintings of beaches are renowned for their dynamic structure and elegant qualities.
Ted Dyer has been living and painting in Cornwall for over sixty years and his accomplished oil paintings of beaches are truly remarkable and are collected worldwide.
Vintage Style Travel Posters featuring the Beach
After the end of the first world war, there was a boom in travel - known as the 'Roaring 20's' people were keen to travel. Travel posters became a regular sight, advertising holiday destinations around the world. The large typeface was so that the wording could be read at a distance, as were the use of bright colourful illustrations. Many of these posters depict beaches and seafronts to attract the attention of those wishing to travel by rail.
Above: Vintage railway poster from the 1920s featuring the destination of Newquay and its beaches in Cornwall
People started travelling again in the 50s after the austerity of the Second World War. There was a resurgence in the production of travel posters advertising holiday destinations in the UK and Europe. The posters became brighter and more colourful due to advanced printing techniques. After World War 2 the introduction of intercontinental air travel meant that people could arrive at their destinations abroad quickly and easily.
Above: Vintage railway poster from the 1950s featuring the destination of Penzance and its beaches in Cornwall
Above: Vintage Style Seaside Travel Art Poster Print by John Dyer of Marazion beach new Penzance and St Michael's Mount in Cornwall
Paintings of beaches are always inspirational and artists will always be drawn to the coast with its variety of colours and light. If you are interested in owning a piece of art that features the beach then do take a look at our online art gallery for lots of ideas from art prints to original painting.