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Paintings of Beaches: How French Impressionists and Realists Inspired a New Cornish School of Painting

  • 7 min read

Paintings of Beaches: How French Impressionists and Realists Inspired a New Cornish School of Painting

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. 

'Plage à Marée Basse' (1869) by Edgar degas (1834-1917)
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.

 'The Beach at Sainte-Adresse (1867) by Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926)
Above: 'The Beach at Sainte-Adresse (1867) by Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926). Available as an open-edition art print.

'Low Tide at Trouville' by Gustave Courbet (French, 1819-1877)
Above: 'Low Tide at Trouville' by Gustave Courbet (French, 1819-1877)

 'Children Playing on the Beach' by Mary Cassatt
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)
Above: 'La Sortie des Barques à Trouville, (1893) by Eugène Boudin (French, 1824-1898). Available as an open-edition fine art print
'Scene de Plage, Trouville (1942)  by Paul-Elie Gernez (French, 1888-1948)
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. 

Fishing Boats Newlyn by Harold Harvey
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.

'The Terminus Penzance Station' by Stanhope Alexander Forbes, (English, 1857-1947)

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.

Women Bathing by Paul Gauguin
Above: 'Women Bathing' by Paul Gauguin, (French, 1848-1903)
Woman on the Beach by Paul Gauguin
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.

Painting, Haymaking, Lepage
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.

'The Mariners Sunday School' by William Holt Yates Titcomb
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.

 'The Old Weighing House' (1822) by Stanhope Alexander Forbes (1857-1947)
Above: 'The Old Weighing House' (1822) by Stanhope Alexander Forbes (1857-1947) 

Beach Scene St Ives by Stanhope Forbes

Above: 'Beach Scene, St Ives' by Stanhope Alexander Forbes (1857-1947) 

A village Idyll, painting by Walter Langley

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.

Dame Laura Knight painting of Sennen Cove in Cornwall

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

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.

Above: 'Puffins at Pentle Bay, Tresco' by John Dyer, acrylic on board

Above: 'Arty St Ives', acrylic on canvas by John Dyer

Joanne Short

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.

Above: 'Flowers and Flags Porthminster Beach St Ives', oil on canvas by Cornish Artist Joanne Short


Above: 'Early Morning, Porth Beach', original oil on canvas by Joanne Short

Ted Dyer

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.

Above: Original Painting by Ted Dyer, 'Sails in the Bay, Tresco'

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.

1920s vintage railway poster print of Newquay beach in Cornwall
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.

Harry Riley vintage railway poster of Penzance

Above: Vintage railway poster from the 1950s featuring the destination of Penzance and its beaches in Cornwall

Here at the John Dyer Gallery we have over 200 different images of our own, in a vintage style poster form to choose from. Some of the most popular ones are below.

Joanne Short vintage style art poster of Newquay in Cornwall
Above:  Newquay, Vintage Style Poster Print by Cornish Artist Joanne Short

John Dyer vintage style art poster of Marazion beach and St Michael's Mount

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.

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