Claude Monet. Mary Cassatt. Pablo Picasso. What do these names have in common? Yes, they’re all famous artists, and yes, they all found inspiration in the sea. Each of these artists has in their repertoire several coastal paintings. If you’ve ever seen Cassatt’s “Children Playing at the Beach,” Monet’s “The Beach at Sainte-Adresse,” or Picasso’s “The Bathers,” these are all excellent examples of coastal art. 

Coastal art is very different from other types of art because it usually has a lot of water and sea-related themes. It features scenes of boats, seascapes, and coastal landscapes. The colors in coastal paintings are typically bright and vibrant because they are inspired by the colors of the sea, sand, and sky.

Why are/were artists attracted to the seaside, both historically and currently? There are a variety of causes, but class is perhaps the most important (particularly in the context of art history).

Style & Class

Prior to the Victorian era, when the wealthier populace frequently visited European Cornwall, going to the shore for a trip or a vacation was exclusively reserved for the highest echelons of society. One British shoreline in particular was immensely romanticized, turning it into a first-class vacation spot, a status it arguably still holds today. 

How, therefore, does this relate to coastal art? The answer can be found in history; for instance, in the past, art, particularly oil paintings, was only accessible to members of the upper class because commissions were the only source of income for artists. Customers wanted opulent paintings of dramatic, stunning seascapes from places they had been or from trendy locations. These coastal paintings undoubtedly served as a status symbol.

Challenge and ability

In fact, it would be inaccurate to claim that seascapes and coastal representations were only produced for fashion and commissions. Paintings of the coast are an expression of expertise, much like landscape paintings that show undulating hills and majestic mountains. Water is undoubtedly a challenging topic to replicate because it is constantly in motion and teeming with life. To convey a sense of motion, this is why boats and ships may be seen in so many seascape paintings.

Above all, artists like a challenge and the chance to advance their craft, particularly those who concentrate on representational painting.