Artists and travel
‘Sainte-Adresse ... there reigns here still all the seductions of solitude, of silence, and of contemplation of the ocean, although for a few years now the little houses, the taverns, the kiosks, and the pavilions multiply themselves in this delicious valley, preparing somehow, thanks to brick and stone, the hour of its imminent transformation.’
Eugène Chapus, 1855
Claude Monet, The Beach at Sainte-Adresse, 1867. Oil on canvas, 75.8 x 102.5cm The Art Institute of Chicago. Mr and Mrs Lewis Larned Coburn Memorial Collection, 1933.439
Opening the travel section of a Sunday newspaper you may encounter an article on ‘The twelve most deserted beaches’, or ‘Little known country inns.’ ‘Not for long’ may be your natural reaction, for the paradox of travel writing is that it often undermines the uniqueness that it reveals. In mid-nineteenth-century France, when holidays were the preserve of a wealthy elite able to afford horse-drawn carriages, it was frequently the novelist or the painter who inspired interest in little-known regions of the country, through their exploration and discovery of more distant parts. The growth of the railway network from 1840 to 1870 opened up the possibilities of travel to broader sections of society. With them came the development of resorts that served the increasing fashion for seaside vacations, followed by the guide books, full of literary quotations and often illustrated by those very painters who had first brought the coasts to public attention.
This exhibition explores the ways in which artists portrayed, and reacted to, the rapidly changing environment of the Channel coast of France. No painting is made without a whole host of decisions and cultural assumptions. What to put in, what to leave out; what is of interest to the painters, what might interest their largely Parisian audience and potential buyers.
The enormous popularity of the Impressionists has overshadowed the landscapes of their acknowledged predecessors, and of painters who worked in more conventional modes, yet who produced images of great relevance to their contemporaries. In placing their work alongside the Impressionists, this exhibition shows how different kinds of images of the sea, the coast, the local inhabitants or the new visitors appealed to their urban audience.
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This text is abridged from the Royal Academy Education Department's guide
Impressionists by the Sea: An Introduction to the Exhibition (712 KB)
, by Greg Harris.