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Impressionists by the Sea - Royal Academy of Arts

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

AN EXHIBITION exploring 19th-century representations of the northern coastline of France, Impressionists by the Sea, will be on display in the Sackler Wing of the Royal Academy from July 7 to September 30, 2007.

The exhibition which consists of some 60 paintings, will explore the origins and development of the scenes of the newly fashionable seaside from the early 1860s to the early 1870s, in the work of Eugene Boudin, Manet and Monet.

It will look at beach scenes of the 1880s, in which the Impressionists, notably Monet, turned their backs on the depictions of people and used their new painting techniques to capture the effects of weather and light on the coastline.

During the 19th-century, the northern coast of France was transformed from being the preserve of local populations who earned their livelihood from the sea to being adopted as the province of holidaymakers.

During the summer months, the coast saw its beaches, fishing villages and modest ports transformed into an extension of modern urban life, ‘the summer boulevard of Paris’.

From the 1820s onwards, the coast provided important subjects for artists in France, who sought to capture on canvas these social and economic changes. Initially, painters portrayed the coast in Romantic terms, focusing on the evocation of the sublime forces of nature and depiction of picturesque scenes of local fishermen.

By the 1860s, stylish holidaymakers began to appear in paintings, as many of the resorts in the area, such as Deauville and Trouville, became fashionable.

The exhibition will concentrate on those works that show the beach itself – the meeting of land and sea – as it is this that reveals most clearly the painters’ approaches to the theme – the beach as a place of work as well as pleasure, and the natural forces that shaped the coastline.

Against a background of late Romantic views by Eugene Isabey and Paul Huet, together with austere realist representations by Gustave Courbet, Impressionists by the Sea will reveal the respective origins of the fashionable contemporary beach scene from the early 1860s to the early 1870s.

In addition, a small group of more conventional representations of beach scenes, by artists such as Whistler and Cazin, have been selected to provide the context within which the Impressionists’ pictorial innovations were received.

These works of art, created for acceptance by the official Salon, are powerful examples of the popularly acclaimed treatment of this subject. The contrast with the Impressionists will highlight the distinctive qualities of these artists’ experiments as they appeared to their contemporaries.

Times: 10am to 6pm daily (last admission 5.30pm); Fridays until 10pm (last admission 9.30pm).

Tickets: £8 – full price; £7 – Registered Disabled and seniors; £6 – NUS/ISIC cardholders; £3 – 12 to 18 years and Income Support; £2 – 8 to 11 years; free – 7 and under.