The Beach and the Seaside: A Source of Artistic Inspiration

sea and art beach painting William Merritt Chase, Au bord de la mer, 1892
William Merritt Chase, Au bord de la mer, 1892

The possibilities are endless when attempting to depict the beach. The seaside is an ever-changing landscape; its consistent motion has made it a great source of inspiration for many artists. This particular theme is well-liked, especially for its artistic beauty and the duality between land and sea. By representing the beach, artists not only practice their art but also share their emotions. Join Artsper, where the sea and art become one!

The Sea: An Artistic Study

In art history, the seaside is a popular destination of artists when studying color, light, and movement. Many painters have tried capturing the atypical lightening, which is often steady in the sky and shaky in the sea. Sea canvas art is a very relatable theme for those who seek to represent “ true nature”. In the second half of the 19th century, the impressionists and the post-impressionists dedicated much of their works to the study of this colorful and wavering light, easily found in seascapes. They aimed to capture nature’s fugacity and believed that this fleeting moment could still be alive.

When reminiscing upon french impressionist landscapes, Claude Monet undeniably pops into our heads. The painter was a leader within the impressionist movement and did many beach canvases.; for example, his Normandy seascapes.

Seaside painting Claude Monet, Mer agitée à Étretat, 1883
Claude Monet, Mer agitée à Étretat, 1883

At the same time, the divisionists developed a particular technique to entrap beams of light in their canvas using individualized color separation. By juxtaposing side-by-side colors, they appear to merge in the eyes of the spectator, creating a unique visual experience.

Seaside painting Paul Signac, La bouée rouge,1895
 Paul Signac, La bouée rouge,1895

With this singular technique, Paul Signac achieved to create an impression of vibration in the sunset light of the Saint- Tropez port in his painting, The Red Buoy.  Edmond Cross’ The Golden Isles also succeeded to make the sea glow at noon when painting the deep blue sea.

Beach paintings Henri-Edmond Cross, Les Îles  d'Or, 1891-1892
Henri-Edmond Cross, Les Îles  d’Or, 1891-1892

The Beach and her Long Walks

Do you reminisce over long walks, wandering at the seaside lost in thought? Artists are all too familiar with this experience, therefore they enjoyed painting it and exploring the notion. When the sun begins to set, the beach is no longer an active space but rather a meditative environment. The atmosphere becomes ideal for your thoughts to drift amongst the waves and float in the deep sea.

Caspar David Friedrich, a 19th-century German painter, succeeded to seize this mood in The Monk by the Sea, one of the most famous landscapes in the history of art. The monk amidst the misty, shady fracture of the sea frontier radiates true serenity and contemplation.

seaside painting Caspar David Friedrich, Le moine au bord de la mer, 1808-1810
Caspar David Friedrich, Le moine au bord de la mer, 1808-1810

The Beach’s joys

Beach often relates to heat, sand, and holidays and many artists had this same vision of leisure and summer fun! Within the endless styles and trends of art history, Edward Henry Potthast and Joost Wensveen have commonly attempted to immortalize this fleeting moment of happiness. In doing so, they’ve created something durable, and everlasting memory.

American impressionist, Edward Henry Potthast, portrays a close-up family portrait demonstrating lively movements in The Bathers.

sea and art Edward Henry Potthast, Bathers, 1913
Edward Henry Potthast, Bathers, 1913 

The contemporary artist Joost Wensveen, from the Netherlands, uses a very particular technique for his beach photography. To have a natural and spontaneous effect, the artist used the combination of multiple shots in his photography. He shot a scene during 30-minute intervals and merged them into a single artwork. In doing so, he shows a simple pleasure for all.

Beach photography Joost Wensveen, Le grand saut, 2017
Joost Wensveen, Le grand saut, 2017

The seaside in danger?

With the reality of sea pollution, contemporary artists are confronted with environmental threats and have protested this environmental injustice through their works. Seaside and beaches may become an old souvenir once pollution consumes the spaces.

Artists like Mandy Barker, use old plastic garbage found in the sea or on the beach as her art’s subject and medium. This photographer is well known for her environmental engagement. Her artwork is intriguing with its airy aesthetic exposing the pollution situation. 

sea photography Mandy Barker, Snowfall On Christmas Island, Commissions, 2016
 Mandy Barker, Snowfall On Christmas Island, Commissions, 2016

What going to happen to the simple joy of swimming at the beach? This is exactly what Lina Lapelyte, Vaiva Grainyte, and Rugile Barzdziukaite have asked during the 2019 Venice Biennale. The Lithuanian lodge created an opera-performance for 13 voices called Sea and Sun (Marina). It showed an invented beach, people laying on their towels, playing with sand, and putting on sunscreen. Everything about the beach was specifically integrated, including the smell, sound, and colors. A lyrical song plays as sadness is provoked by the loss of the ecosystem. This loss is reinforced by the white light, making the beach scene feel like a lab experimentation. It’s an artwork in and of itself belonging to the past, whose message was reward by the Golden Lion for best national presentation.

Reproduction of a beach_ opera-performance_ Lina Lapelyte, Vaiva Grainyte and Rugile Barzdziukaite, Sun & Sea (Marina), 2019
Lina Lapelyte, Vaiva Grainyte and Rugile Barzdziukaite, Sun & Sea (Marina), 2019


Sea and art, a successful weeding

Seascape paintings were present throughout art history, and are still relevant today. The beach has inspired many artists and has allowed them to bare new art themes, sensations, and wonders. Sea and art have become two allies within the artistic world, bound by mutual thought and emotion.