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The Great British Love of the Seaside

In our next Gallery Late, By the Seaside (this Friday, 13 July), we will be celebrating the nation’s love affair with the seaside. Here in leafy Dulwich we will be presenting an alternative take on the quintessentially British experience of the beach, taking inspiration from the work of Edward Bawden.

Living on an island, our love for the sea is perhaps to be expected. However, artists over generations have responded to and taken inspiration from, not just the sea, but the quirks and customs of the British seaside. Photographer Martin Parr is an example of such an artist, documenting the humour and nostalgia that comes with going to the beach. Think melting Mr Whippy’s, seagulls stealing chips and beachgoers scrambling for umbrellas when the inevitable British weather kicks in and it starts to rain. You’ll find all of these in Parr’s photographs, as he presents a satirical take on the spectacle of the British seaside.

Like Parr, Edward Bawden spent much of his career documenting ‘a life of leisure’, and his work is the inspiration for the evening. His monumental linocut Brighton Pier, 1958 [above], presents a traditional symbol of the British seaside: the promenade. A place to sit and eat fish and chips with your legs dangling off the side, playing arcade games, or watching a performance of Punch and Judy, the promenade brings to mind the fun and carefree spirit of the seaside. In the image, Bawden creates a contrast between the linear structure of the pier and the rounded domes, adding an exoticism to the scene. For those who aren’t lucky enough to live near the coast, going to the seaside is a holiday experience, as we are transported from the mundanity of everyday life. These domes touch on that fantasy feel, presenting a world that is far away from the green fields and city streets that many of us are used to.

Whilst Edward Bawden perfectly captures the carefree spirit of being by the sea, one of our gallery founders, the successful art dealer and collector Francis Bourgeois, chose a different approach. Sea Shore with Rearing Horse c.1792 captures a rearing horse against waves crashing into the shoreline, whilst two figures grapple with the wild animal. The painting is packed with drama and energy, depicting the untamed power of nature. You can almost smell the salt of the sea, and hear the waves crashing down onto the beach. The multi-sensory nature of this work creates an experience of being by the sea for the viewer.

Our Gallery Late will also explore the immersive nature of the sea with ‘Scents of the Seaside’ by perfumer Sarah McCartney and a ‘Seaside Soundscape’ in our atmospheric and acoustic Mausoleum. Add to this Vegan fish and chips, boozy ice creams and a vintage seaside sing-along and it is guaranteed to be a magical evening. So come along this Friday and celebrate our Great British love of the seaside!

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By Isabel Casey, Development Intern

Image: Edward Bawden, Brighton Pier (detail), 1958, Linocut on paper, Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery (The Higgins Bedford), © Estate of Edward Bawden