Top 10 beach scenes


As the summer season kicks in, Artprice takes a look at the Top 10 most-expensive beach paintings.

Some of the art market’s most famous artists painted beach scenes… and some of these works are particularly appreciated by collectors. These week’s auction ranking takes a look at the market’s Top 10 most expensive beach scenes. At the top of the list, Monet’s Impressionist depiction of a genteel way of life on the Normandy coast.

Monet’s idyllic Trouville scenes

For the figurehead of Impressionism, Trouville and its environs provided the best beach subjects. Several renowned artists used to meet there including Monet’s friend Eugène Boudin who tirelessly painted the same Normandy coast. Women with parasols, people walking by the sea, the light at low tide, happy moments… The genteel life of the late 19th century bourgeoisie provided a perfect setting for Monet’s Impressionist vision and, indeed, views of Trouville’s beaches account for half of this ranking, making the Normandy coast the art market’s favourite “seaside” subject. These are the only beach scenes that have fetched more than $10 million over the past 30 years.

Figueres, the top Surrealist beach…

The greatest Surrealist (as Salvador Dali modestly described himself) appears twice in this Top 10… with the same painting. Spectre du soir sur la plage (Night Spectre on the Beach) (1935) takes us to the Playa de Roses on the Costa Brava, not far from Figueres: an almost infinite beach under a spectacular sky… a mysterious space with a couple of tiny human silhouettes. The painting fetched nearly $5.7 million in 2010 (Sotheby’s) and then a little over a million dollars more ($ 6.8 million) in November 2017 at the same auctioneer. The latter result represented Dali’s 5th best-ever auction result, and judging by his more expensive paintings – including Portrait of Paul Eluard ($21.6 million at Sotheby’s in London in 2011) – the Figueres beach is never far away…

The Camargue coast

During his stay in Pays d’Arles in the Camargue region of Southern France (1888-1889), Vincent Van Gogh made some 300 drawings and paintings, often brilliant works that illustrate how much the strong midday light impressed his northern eyes. However, it wasn’t the colours that inspired bidding for his Bateaux de pêches sur la plage à Sainte-Maries-de-la-Mer (Fishing Boats on the Beach at Sainte-Maries-de-la-Mer) (1888) to over $5 million. An admirable composition in black ink (on paper), it indicates the colours to apply at a later stage (orange, white, red, blue). This superb drawing – the colours of one has to imagine – provides an important insight into the way Van Gogh composed his works. In price terms, the picture of charming little fishing boats at the water’s edge is among Van Gogh’s top 10 drawings.

The Dutch coast

Willem Van de Velde the Elder was a Dutch artist born in 1611 in Leiden (a Dutch coastal town) and who died on 13 December 1693 in London. The son of Flemish skipper, he became a marine painter, as did his son Willem Van de Velde the Younger. Influenced by the era’s taste for Realism Van de Velde was a master of detail, painting ships and their crews with exceptional technical virtuosity in the treatment of skies and the sea. For a time, he was the official artist of the Dutch fleet, a mission that was typical of the Flemish Golden Age. Gifted, both father and son entered the service of Charles II of England in 1672 and both received an annual income of £100. Today the Elder’s works can fetch very high prices. In 2015 his Dutch Harbor in a Calm – a pen, ink and oil on panel already auctioned in Amsterdam in 1998 – fetched a record $5.4 million in New York, adding $4.3 million to its previous value 17 years earlier.

Our Top 10 beach scenes also includes a large abstract beach painting by Agnes Martin (190.5 x 190.5 cm) – a sort of window open to all possible destinations – that fetched $6.5 million.

Rank Artist Hammer Price ($) Artwork Sale
1 Claude MONET (1840-1926) 16 442 530 La plage à Trouville 27/06/2000 Sotheby’s, London
2 Claude MONET (1840-1926) 15 061 045 La plage à Trouville 25/06/2008 Sotheby’s, London
3 Claude MONET (1840-1926) 13 043 800 La plage à Trouville 14/11/1988 Christie’s, New York
4 Claude MONET (1840-1926) 12 125 000 Camille assise sur la plage à Trouville 08/05/2018 Christie’s, New York
5 Claude MONET (1840-1926) 6 912 437 Sur les planches de Trouville 09/12/1997 Christie’s, London
6 Salvador DALI (1904-1989) 6 802 000 Spectre du soir sur la plage 14/11/2017 Sotheby’s, New York
7 Agnes MARTIN (1912-2004) 6 549 000 The Beach 13/11/2013 Sotheby’s, New York
8 Salvador DALI (1904-1989) 5 682 500 Spectre du soir sur la plage 05/05/2010 Sotheby’s, New York
9 Willem I VAN DE VELDE (1611-1693) 5 429 000 Dutch Harbor in a Calm with Small Vessels Inshore… 29/01/2015 Sotheby’s, New York
10 Vincent VAN GOGH (1853-1890) 5 062 500 Bateaux de pêches sur la plage à Sainte-Maries-de-la-Mer 05/05/1998 Christie’s, New York
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