All these paintings focus on beaches, that is, flattish areas of sand or pebbles adjacent to the sea. In the nineteenth century the word ‘beach’ began to take on its modern connotation as a site for holiday-making and leisure. In tourist resorts such as Ramsgate and Pegwell Bay in Kent, the beach was a social space where people prepared to bathe, read novels and newspapers, flirted, rode donkeys, watched entertainers, collected natural history specimens or simply sat out in the open air. In fishing villages, however, the flat beach had a more utilitarian function as the place where boats were pulled up onto the sand, where their catch was unloaded and sometimes where the fish were sold to merchants and the general public. In these locations, such as Cullercoats on the north-east coast near Newcastle, the beach was a different kind of social space, one in which the relationships within a close-knit community were cemented and tested. Here, and on unfrequented rocky beaches in more remote locations such as Cornwall, images of the beach might remind viewers not of holidays but of the symbolism of the seacoast as a metaphor for the fragility of human life and the hope of immortality.
Department of History, Philosophy and Culture
All rights reserved. This is an Accepted Manuscript of a book chapter published by Routledge in 'The Beach in Anglophone Literatures and Cultures' in 2015, available online: https://www.routledge.com/The-Beach-in-Anglophone-Literatures-and-Cultures-Reading-Littoral-Space/Kluwick-Richter/p/book/9781472457530
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