The joy of childhood and the sea celebrated in art
Les enfants n’ont ni passé ni avenir, et, ce qui ne nous arrive guère, ils jouissent du présent. (Children have neither past nor future, and, that which hardly happens to us, they rejoice in the present.)
~ Jean de La Bruyère, Les Caractères (1885)
What has happened to childhood? Many of today’s urban children spend their weekends inside shopping malls or playing video games at home, sometimes for hours on end. Their world has literally shrunk. They should be outdoors — romping about the gardens, flying kites and paper planes, biking along grassy paths, or playing at the beach. The latter is an unforgettable experience for any child and is joyfully depicted in the following paintings.
Corriendo por la playa (Running along the beach), 1908
Joaquín Sorolla (Spanish, 1863–1923)
With neither past nor future to encumber it, childhood is unfettered and free-flowing like the water and sunlight in Joaquín Sorolla’s 1903 painting. No other artist perhaps could have depicted children on the beach with such joyful iridescence. As William E. B. Starkweather, an American painter and writer, wrote in his 1909 essay, ‘Joaquín Sorolla: The Man and his Work’:
The art of Sorolla is an art of joy, of sunshine, of splendid youth. He does not consider for a moment failure or distress, old age or death. It is an art somewhat savage, somewhat pagan; but it is an art beautifully vigorous, admirably robust.
En Flok Drenge ude i det solglitrende Vand (A bunch of boys out in the sunlit water), 1892
Peder Severin Krøyer (Danish, 1851–1909)
Young boys gambol and frolick in the sunlit sea, unburdened by worldly cares. Peder Krøyer’s painting is a hymn to childhood and its unremorseful sense of freedom.
Les petits goélands (Small seagulls), date unknown
Virginie Demont-Breton (French, 1859–1935)
Virginie Demont-Breton’s painting is fittingly entitled Les petits goélands. The three young boys are nestled together in a mound of sand like baby seagulls. The image is suggestive of the sea as the Great Mother providing for both birds and humans.
Kinderen der zee (Children of the sea), 1872
Jozef Israëls (Dutch, 1824–1911)
It is a kind of tragedy that the children of today no longer find pleasure in simple toys. The charm of a miniature, home-made sailboat has given way to the dazzling lights and spectacular sounds of a computer game.
Beach Scene with Lavender Sky, circa 1920
Edward Henry Potthast (American, 1857–1927)
Children in brightly coloured clothes enliven what would otherwise be a humdrum seascape. Are children not like flowers that add colour to life? A world without their bright smiles would be a dreary landscape indeed.
Two Boys Watching Schooners, 1880
Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910)
Children soon grow up and grow old. Perchance they will remember that day on the beach with the smell of saltwater and the warm sand under their feet, and declare together with the great British Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore:
LIKE the meeting of the seagulls and the waves we meet and come near. The seagulls fly off, the waves roll away and we depart. (Verse 54, Stray Birds,1919)