Seaside Modern: Art and Life on the Beach

Coming to Hastings Contemporary Spring 2021

Curated by James Russell

In the early 1900s visitors flocked to the seaside in ever-increasing numbers, among them a diverse group of artists…

This exuberant anthology show will examine a half-century of artistic experimentation at the seaside along with archive photographs and advertising posters, making a case for the beach and the lido as sites of the Modernist movement as integral to the development of modern British art as the cafes and arcades of London and Paris.

Exploring a time when people presented and saw themselves in a radically new way, as coastal towns transformed into destinations for working-class holidaymakers escaping the cities and as attitudes to the body shifted from Victorian prudery to modern exhibitionism, Seaside Modern considers how British artists explored the coast and seaside resorts throughout the early modern period. Some artists focused on the changing population who frequented the shore, from fishermen to glamorous young holidaymakers; others explored the innate strangeness and existential emptiness of the beach landscape; and, while the seaside was associated with health, fitness and beauty, it retained its historic lawlessness, with transgressive forms of licence from strip shows to surrealist avant-gardism.              

James Russell is an art historian and curator who enjoys finding new ways of looking at 20th century British art and design. Best-known for the blockbuster exhibition ‘Ravilious’ at Dulwich Picture Gallery, he particularly relishes assembling large-scale exhibitions exploring themes in modern British art. The Mail on Sunday described ‘Century’ (Jerwood Gallery 2016) as ‘sprightly, uplifting and as bracing as a dip in the English Channel and The Observer called his most recent exhibition, ‘Reflection: British Art in an Age of Change’ (Ferens Art Gallery 2019) ‘startling and unmissable’. James studied History at Pembroke College, Cambridge and has written a dozen books, one of which was a 2016 Sunday Times Book of the Year. He lectures independently and for The Arts Society around Britain and beyond.

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Cover image: Paul Nash, Landscape from a Dream, 1936-8, oil on canvas. Courtesy of Tate, London © Photo ŠTate. Top left: John Piper, Beach with Starfish, c.1933-4, goache, ink on paper, and printed paper. Courtesy of Tate, London © Photo ŠTate. Top centre: Nigel Henderson, Childhood Visit to the Seaside, 1976, collage. Courtesy of The Ingram Collection of Modern British Art © JP Bland 2016. Top right: Joseph Bard, photograph of Eileen Agar lying on a beach with a plastic swan and a rubber shark. Taken in Knokke, Belgium, September 1938. Courtesy of Tate, London © Photo ŠTate