Nature as subject matter for painters came into its own with the Impressionist artists. Religious and historical subject matter was replaced by studies of ordinary people enjoying everyday life. The artists used a style of painting called plein air, which simply means "in the open air." As the artists continued to find new locations to study light and form in the out of doors, they went to the beaches often following the tourists and capturing contemporary vacation life on canvas. The did not make sketches. The artists brought paints, canvas and easel along and painted in quick strokes to capture in a short time the scenes before them.
"The Beach at Sainte-Adresse"
This oil on canvas was painted by Claude Monet in 1867. The Impressionist painters frequently painted out of doors, taking in the change of colors with location and time of day and year. This work was done when Monet was a young man and he was breaking away from traditional standards of art. About 29 by 40 inches, the painting shares a cold, gray day with a regatta in progress and beached rowboats. Fisherman are working on shore, and down the beach a couple watches the sailboats through a hand-held telescope.
"Summer Evening on the Beach at Skagen"
Norwegian-born Danish artist Peder Sever Kroyer painted this oil of a man and his wife walking along the surf in early evening in 1899. On the horizon are two sailboats, and the man's black dog licks at his sock. Both are dressed in white, the brunette woman carrying her hat in her right hand toward the surf side. The husband with his neat blond goatee keeps his hat on as was the custom for gentlemen of the period. As with other Danish artists at the end of the 19th century, Kroyer moved away from political and historical subjects embracing landscapes and portraits which reflected the dignity and traditional rural virtues of the country.
Louis Eugene Boudin of France created this oil on a 14-by-22-inch canvas capturing vacations on the Normandy coast. This self-trained artist painted this work in 1864 in his early 40s. The graying sky hovers above the beach buildings and wind-blown tourists completely obscuring the view of the ocean. In spite of the impending storm, the well-dressed tourists continue enjoying the day. In the middle of the canvas a mother and daughter dressed in white come toward us, and just before them is their small white dog. Both mother and daughter carry closed parasols at their sides.
"Children Playing on the Beach"
Pennsylvania native Mary Cassatt lived and painted most of her life in France. Part of the Impressionist period, her portrait of two young children playing with their pails and shovels is approximately 29 by 38 inches. Because she was independently wealthy, Cassatt was not only able to pursue a career as an artist but was instrumental in gaining acceptance of Impressionism in the United States. "Children Playing on a Beach" is an intimate snapshot of sisters at play. The girls sit almost back to back, the one closest to us without a hat and her stockings pushed down. The girl whose face is away from us keeps hat on and her stockings in place.
- "Impressionism and Post Impressionism in the Art Institute of Chicago"; James N. Wood; 2000
- "The Triumph of Light and Nature; Nordic Art 1740-1940"; Neil Kent; 1987
- "History of Art, 5th Ed."; H.W. Janson and Anthony F. Janson; 1997
- Encyclopedia of Art: Mary Cassatt
- Encyclopedia of Art: P.S. Kroyer
- Encyclopedia of Art: Claude Monet
- Photo Credit Ryan McVay/Stockbyte/Getty Images
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