Escape to the Beach with Art

What’s more fun in the summer than going to the beach? Join us as we explore different artists’ visions of the beach, including Claude Monet, Winslow Homer, Georges Seurat, and more.

Eugène Boudin, Beach at Trouville, 1864/65
Eugène Boudin, Beach at Trouville, 1864/65

Eugène Boudin: A French Seascape Painter

French artist Eugène Boudin (1924-1898) was an early adopter of the “plein air” (outdoors) approach to painting. While artists have always done sketches or preparatory studies outdoors, it was not until the early 19th century that they began making completed paintings outdoors as well. Boudin was known for setting up his easel at the French seashore and painting what he saw. In the late 1850s, he became a friend of then-teenage Claude Monet and encouraged him to become a landscape painter.

Claude Monet, Étretat: The Beach and the Falaise d’Amont, 1885. Art Institute of Chicago
Claude Monet, Étretat: The Beach and the Falaise d’Amont, 1885. Art Institute of Chicago

Claude Monet: Father of Impressionism

Taking inspiration from Boudin, Claude Monet (1840-1926) began painting outdoors in the plein air style. In many of his Impressionist paintings, Monet displays a fascination with the changing effects of light on various surfaces, such as haystacks. His paintings of beaches, such as this one, reveal his interpretation of nature. Depicting the coast of Normandy, in northern France, this painting exhibits the staggering beauty of shimmering water and craggy shadowed cliffs. This beach appears to have been a favorite of the artist, as he made four paintings of it.

Winslow Homer, Dad’s Coming!, 1873
Winslow Homer, Dad’s Coming!, 1873

Winslow Homer: American Storyteller

The artist Winslow Homer (1836-1910) is celebrated for paintings of everyday Americans and for seascapes. In this work, he combines the two subjects. A young boy perched on a sailboat and a woman holding a baby stand on the beach, waiting for the father to return from sea. Perhaps he is aboard one of the ships in the background about to come to shore. In this painting, Homer pays as much attention to the landscape of the beach — witness the tufted grass and bits of driftwood — as he does to the poignant emotions of his characters.

 

William Trost Richards, New Jersey Beach,
William Trost Richards, New Jersey Beach,

William Trost Richards: Painter of Nature

In this painting, William Trost Richards (1833-1905) depicts the beach in New Jersey, not far from his hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Leaving out people, umbrellas, or folding chairs, he focuses on the tide itself in precise detail. Looking at the white-capped waves and glistening damp sand, you feel like you’re practically standing on the beach. Richards painted mostly landscapes and seascapes and was a member of the Hudson River School.

Georges Seurat, The Lighthouse at Honfleur, 1886.

Georges Seurat: Pointillism at the Beach

French artist Georges Seurat (1859-1891) developed pointillism, a technique that involves placing tiny dots of different colors on canvas which, when seen from a distance, cohere into an image. The colors selected reflect the effects of light and shadow in the scene. Seurat’s style appears especially effective in the grainy sand and coarse, scrubby grass of the beach in this painting, which depicts a city in the same region of France as the beaches painted by Boudin and Monet.

Conclusion

Though beaches are commonly found in art, painters have painted them in diverse styles, ranging from the realistic to the experimental. Beaches as a subject have also played a role in major developments in art history, for example, the advent of plein air painting and the beginning of the Impressionist movement. When you hit the beach this summer, reflect for a moment and see if it reminds you of any of these paintings. Which is your favorite?

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Andrew Lokay

Andrew is an art lover and frequent visitor to DC art museums. He studied international relations and French at Stanford University, where he also took coursework in art history. He’s passionate about helping people see art with new perspectives.
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