Seaside Scene by James Smetham (1821-1889). Oil on board. H 16.5 x W 24 cm. © Oxford Brookes University/Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History, reproduced with permission.

Smetham visited Felpham in Sussex "the shore where dear old Blake the painter in his four years' residence used to wander, seeing Moses and the prophets" (Letters, 231) in 1869, and this scene brings Felpham, with its many groynes and sloping shingle beach, very much to mind. It is not at all what one would expect from a "seaside scene" — just the groyne, the shingle, a boat high and dry there, and a slipway. Yet it sums up the kind of seaside round there, and captures the wood, the shingle, the gradations of tone, the effect of weathering on the wood, the debris thrown up at high tide, the sea over the dune, the sky. It reminds us of Ruskin's emphasis on seeing: not seeing "eternity in a grain of sand" as Blake suggested, but seeing the shingle and wood for exactly what they are, as being beautiful in themselves, and beautifully in harmony with their surroundings.

"The beach and groynes at Bognore Regis," photographed by Steve Daniels.

Painting reproduced by kind permission (see caption). Photograph from the geograph website, on the Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Commentary and formatting by Jacqueline Banerjee. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]


Smetham, James. Letters of James Smetham. Ed. Sarah Smetham and William Davies. London and New York: Macmillan, 1902. Internet Archive. Contributed by University of California Libraries. Web. 22 June 2021.

Created 22 June 2021