Winslow Homer’s “Escena de Playa”-a painting telling a story
While Madrid’s Museo Thyssen had innumerable stunning works of art, my favorite was Winslow Homer’s Escena de Playa (Scene from a Beach). Even if you didn’t know its date (1869) the painting depicts another era entirely judging by the attire of the figures depicted. The girls, who look to be school age, are wearing dresses on top of pantaloons, a type of undergarment that was prominent in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The boys are not as in focus, as Homer painted them frolicking in the waves. (The girls, perhaps in accordance with the times when girls were not supposed to behave as boys, are back more towards the sand, with only their toes touching the water. However, what I love most about this painting is the lone figure that stands out amongst the rest. While the girls and especially the boys resemble each other (at least when going by their attire), this one girl does not. She is standing on the sand but is still fully clothed-her tights and shoes are still on, her dress is hanging straight naturally unlike some of the other girls who are holding their hems up so as to keep them safe against incoming waves. Homer also chose dark colors for this girl while the other figures are painted with neutral hues, this girl is wearing a red dress, but only the red that comes out beneath her apron shows. She’s also wearing a mantilla, a Spanish-style head covering. Although interpretations of the painting like in movies and books abound, my interpretation of this solitary figure is that she is from the upper classes, perhaps having taken a detour to the beach with her governess. The governess, being strict and unyielding, does not permit the girl to remove her stockings and shoes no matter how many times she begs to do so. The girl looks on sadly at the other children, who have removed their shoes and stockings since they have no governess there to tell them otherwise.
The beach is one of my favorite places to be. It doesn’t have to be a beach in a warm weather destination or somewhere that is immensely famous or popular. It just has to be a beach with sand, that to me is the essence of beauty. The smell of ocean air hitting your face, such a distinct and recognizable scent, is one I just love. I don’t get to the beach nearly enough but when I do I savor each moment. Although there were countless reproductions I could have selected, I naturally chose Homer’s Escena de Playa to take home with me. Seven years later I still have it and even got it framed. I have yet to hang it in my new house, but even from its place propped up against the wall on the floor, I’m visually reminded of what a stunning yet simple painting it is.