Art/Architecture Spain

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.

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  • Reply
    JoAnn M.
    April 18, 2013 at 10:48 pm

    I really love this post! “Scene from a Beach” is a beautiful painting that makes the viewer think about what the story is behind it. I loved your interpretation! You may very well be right.

    I wonder if the dark ominous skies reflect the mood of the little girl, who, as you pointed out, “stands out among the rest”. Or maybe it signifies the unknown future she faces.

    Maybe she is in a foreign country (see the girl on the left) or in an unfamiliar place which might be another reason why she is unwilling to join in with the other children. Or maybe she’s afraid of the water.

    I agree, that the red of her dress is significant, making her the focus of this painting. I love the reflections of the children in the foreground and the contrast of their vertical figures against the horizontal elements that dominate the painting.

    Your enthusiasm for this painting and the beach are so evident in this post. I hope you will do more posts like this. Thanks for writing it, it was a joy to read!

  • Reply
    the red headed traveler
    April 19, 2013 at 1:26 am

    I thought you would! I have so many “favorites” of paintings, but this is one I can visualize any time of the day, anywhere. It just so captures me. But it would definitely be a neat new series to begin.

    Your interpretations were very engaging and thought provoking as well. I never even considered the simple fact that she might be afraid of the water and this is the reason for her hesitation.

    Yes, the reflections that Homer created are just wonderful.

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