Beach Scenes

Occasional thunderstorms aside, the recent warm weather has many people spending a lot of time daydreaming about the beach. Rather than braving the crowds and seagulls, however, I have done some exploring in the Prints, Drawings, and Paintings department, to discover what sand and sea-related objects can be found in our collection.
If you also prefer to enjoy a beach experience from the comforts of the indoors, perhaps you could take some inspiration from this wallpaper.

Wallpaper, Walter Crane, 1879. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Wallpaper, Walter Crane, 1879. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

It was designed by Walter Crane in 1879, and made by printing starfish and seashell shapes from wood blocks onto sand-coloured paper. With some carefully chosen accessories, it could lend a seaside atmosphere to any room.

If a few carefully spaced, static marine shapes don’t bring enough excitement to the beach-going experience, perhaps you will identify more with these slightly manic looking children building a sandcastle around a cocoa tin.

'The Cocoa Nibs,' S.H. Benson, c. 1925. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

‘The Cocoa Nibs,’ S.H. Benson, c. 1925. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Whether it’s the success of their structure, or the thrill of seeing themselves on a billboard which even the dog seems to find fascinating, it is difficult to imagine a more enthusiastic pair of beach-goers.

Although we might consider the use of beach scenes a strange method of advertising hot drinks today, this poster seems to have adopted the same strategy.

Poster, unknown designer, c. 1930 - 1939. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Poster, unknown designer, c. 1930 – 1939. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

We do not know who the designer of this poster was, but a very small inscription on the bottom of the print reads ‘Issued by the Empire Tea Market Expansion Bureau.’ This explains why tea itself, rather than a particular brand of tea, is being promoted. The drink certainly seems to have benefited this young couple, with the emphasis of the image being placed on their youth, vitality, and fashionable beachwear.

'Coast Scene, Normandy,' John Absolon, c. 1860. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

‘Coast Scene, Normandy,’ John Absolon, c. 1860. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Unlike the previous image, which employed only a few tan brushstrokes to suggest sand, this watercolour features the coastal landscape much more prominently. Painted by John Absolon in about 1860, the cliffs, sand, and sky seem to have interested him much more than the loosely indicated figures. In fact, Absolon often painted stage scenery, so perhaps his emphasis on the non-human elements of the painting is unsurprising.

'A Squall,' James Gillray, 1810. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

‘A Squall,’ James Gillray, 1810. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Finally, before we become too optimistic about the weather, James Gillray has provided us with what is, unfortunately, a rather more realistic impression of many days on the beach. From the remaining areas of blue sky, it seems that this squall has appeared suddenly, taking the poor lady with the umbrella by surprise. A gentleman behind her has employed a creative method of keeping his hat in place, while his companion struggles to catch up to his own. Fortunately, a strip of blue already seems to be appearing at the horizon, so the day out may not be ruined after all.

If you are interested in discovering more seaside images, please book an appointment at the Prints and Drawings Study Room!

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