Six 20th-Century Photographs of the Beach to Buy Now

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Wallace Kirkland, Nude in Shadows, 1948© Wallace Kirkland

The Michael Hoppen Gallery’s exhibition Sandy is a glorious celebration of the seaside – and all of the photographs in it are available to purchase online

Wanderlust was the genesis for Michael Hoppen’s online exhibition Sandy: “I was looking through images from our stock and thinking wouldn’t it be nice to be on that beach?” he confesses. It seems only fitting, then, that the images selected have us craving the seaside. With snapshots of everything from friends playing in the surf, to abstract meditations on the human body and the ever-changing coastline, the spirit of the seaside soaks you right through.

After all, is there a setting that better encapsulates the freedom of summer? The beach is a liberating place, a zone of escape. It’s that intriguing liminal space between land and sea where we are at our most human and engaged in the world around us. Whether peacocking in espadrilles and accessories with fellow holidaymakers, or stripping down to dive into the blue, there’s something truly special about being on the sand under the sun. To fuel our wanderlust, we took a closer look at the prints we’d love to take home from Hoppen’s collection. Our real wish? To recreate them. 

1. Wallace Kirkland, Nude in Shadows, 1948 (above)

“It’s one of my favourite pictures,” Hoppen confesses about this gorgeous graphic image of shadow lines on a nude, sun-bathing body by American photographer Wallace Kirkland. “I swapped [it] with a photographer many years ago and it’s a picture that I really love.” Shot in the 1940s, the print was originally given by Wallace to Slim Aarons, a famous photographer of the 50s and 60s who worked for publications like Holiday and Town and Country, yet its powerful, almost abstract qualities remain just as captivating in 2017. “I think it just looks so modern,” Hoppen enthuses, “you could take that today”. A true work of art that stands the test of time. 

2. Fernand Fonssagrives, Mexican Extravaganza, 1949

Who wouldn’t want to be sitting on a wicker-woven beach mat on Mexican sands with a matching hat, halterneck one-piece, and perfectly manicured nails? Known primarily for his role as one of the great beauty photographers for publications such as VogueHarpers’ Bazaar and Town and Country, it’s clear even from this relatively casual beach shot that Fernand Fonssagrives had a skill for capturing elegance. When his career as a dancer ended, the camera became, in his own words, “part of my body”. For Hoppen there’s something about this image that epitomises the liberation to be found on the sand. “For me it’s also about having the freedom to wear things you probably wouldn’t wear in the street,” he says. Some clothes are simply made to sit among the ripples of sand dunes, and we can only imagine how finding the right habitat for this particular hat brought a pleasure all of its own.

3. Jacques Henri Lartigue, Chou Valton à la plage de la Garoupe, Cap d’Antibes, August 1932

This image by French photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue captures a woman in Antibes in August at ‘la plage de la Garoupe’. Looking at the photograph you can practically feel the warmth of the sun drying damp sea-salty skin. For Hoppen, it was important to capture something of the power of summer sunshine. He notes how it was predominantly holidaymakers that invented the entire concept of sunbathing: “the Brits, the Fitzgeralds and the Murpheys and the 20s of course, heading down to France”. It was these trailblazers, in Hoppen’s view, who decided it was “a pleasant thing to strip off and warm your skin”.

4. Jacques Henri Lartigue, Florette at Carven, Agay, August 1954

For Hoppen, focusing on the human form and its interaction with the landscape took precedence over showcasing the natural splendour of the seas. Yet in this striking shot by Lartigue the two forces come together to incredible effect. Stripped of its natural enchanting blue, the patterns of the water become a puzzle to linger on, with shadows seeped in their own stories. The figure striding through the textured surface takes centre stage with their back to the viewer we can’t help but want to follow. This image has us ready to head out hunting for secret coves and secluded lagoons – a welcome reminder that exploring at the coast is always a good idea. 

5. Jacques Henri Lartigue, Renée au Palm Beach, Cannes, August 1931

“The beach is where people go to display themselves,” Hoppen notes. “People talk about getting ready for the beach and they go out to buy clothes for the beach and they have their surf gear and their sunglasses – the entire process has always been a major enterprise.” This shot of an elegant jewel-adorned French woman by Lartigue at Cannes perfectly captures the luxurious side of beach spirit. The arched canopies of fringed and striped parasols create the ideal backdrop to this relaxed mise-en-scène. It pays to remember that dressing up for the beach is often just as fun as dressing down. 

6. Jacques Henri Lartigue, Véra, Bibi and Arlette, Cannes May 1927

“I have never taken a picture for any other reason than that at that moment it made me happy to do so,” declared Lartigue. This energetic shot really seems to capture something of the joie de vivre of the Cote D’Azure, with the women in his life can-canning at the shoreline. Who doesn’t love a good paddle in the foam of breaking waves? Hoppen himself first experienced photography at the beach; “it tends to be a place where people enjoy themselves, I think that’s important”. We couldn’t agree more. 

Sandy runs online until October 1, 2017 at Michael Hoppen Gallery.