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Modernism on Sea

Art and Culture at the British Seaside


Edited By Lara Feigel and Alexandra Harris

Modernism on Sea brings together writing by some of today’s most exciting seaside critics, curators, filmmakers and scholars, and takes the reader on a journey around the coast of Britain to explore the rich artistic and cultural heritage that can be found there, from St Ives to Scarborough. The authors consider avant-garde art, architecture, film, literature and music, from the early twentieth century to the present, setting the arrival of modernism against the background of seaside tradition.
From the cheeky postcards marvelled at by George Orwell to austere modernist buildings such as the De La Warr Pavilion; from the Camden Town Group’s sojourn in Brighton to John Piper’s ‘Nautical Style’; from Paul Nash’s surrealist benches on the promenade in Swanage to the influence of bunting and deckchairs on the Festival of Britain – Modernism on Sea is a sweeping tour de force which pays tribute to the role of the seaside in shaping British modernism.


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Introduction Lara Feigel and Alexandra Harris 1


Introduction Lara Feigel and Alexandra Harris Modernism is usually seen as the most urban and frenetic of artistic move- ments. A typical journey through high modernism would start in the cafés and arcades of Paris, whirl along the banks of the Liffey and stop the traffic in Bloomsbury before blasting into a Berlin nightclub. But a discerning artistic pilgrim would do well to pause on the cliffs and promenades of the English coast. Modernism on Sea puts the case for a new geography of avant-gardism, acknowledging that the most intriguing cultural hubs of modern times include Swanage, Margate, Morecambe and Hythe. This book takes a series of expe- ditions in the footsteps of the twentieth century’s great seaside artists and it argues that there exists in this country a rich, continuous tradition of seaside art that has never properly been pieced together. Convalescing at Margate in 1921, T.S. Eliot spent long hours sitting in a blustery shelter looking out over the yellowed winter sea. His sense of desola- tion went into the poem he was writing and which would become ‘The Fire Sermon’ section of The Waste Land. His location mattered, and he acknowl- edged it explicitly: On Margate Sands. I can connect Nothing with nothing.1 Eliot’s great lament for a broken postwar world belonged to Margate as much as it belonged to London Bridge. But if the seaside was, for Eliot, a site of modernist emptiness, it has seemed for subsequent writers more like a place of excess....

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