Clarice Beckett’s Sandringham Beach is a dynamic and modern composition of sand, bathing boxes and beach walkers. Beckett depicted the scene from an unusual perspective—from a cliff looking down onto the beach. Captured in the glare of a summer day, the smooth body of sand appears to shimmer with ‘white heat’. Backing onto scruffy vegetation, the brightly coloured striped roofs of the bathing boxes are the most solid aspects of the composition.
The ocean occupies a small portion of Beckett’s view, with beachgoers strolling along the water’s edge and a game of beach cricket taking place. The bright modern swimsuits and exposed skin of the walkers have been brushed onto the canvas with soft dabs of colour. The playful atmosphere of Sandringham Beach encapsulates Australian’s love of the beach as a key site of recreation and relaxation.
Beckett first studied in Ballarat, and then from 1914 to 1916 with Frederick McCubbin at the National Gallery School. In 1917 she attended Max Meldrum’s public lecture on tonal painting at Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre and, impressed by his theories, enrolled in his classes. While Beckett was considered a ‘Meldrumite’— a devotee of her teacher’s theories of tonal values as the best means of depicting nature—she adapted his ideas to create her own lyrical vision of the Australian landscape.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014
Frederick McCubbin tutored Clarice Beckett at the National Gallery School in Melbourne in 1914. Like many students seeking a more contemporary path, she later chose to study with Max Meldrum; from him she absorbed and adapted components of his theory of art as optical illusion based on tonal harmony. Seldom signing or dating her works, Beckett sold few paintings during her lifetime and, as with many female artists, her work was treated with critical disdain by her male counterparts.
Brought up in a family that enjoyed a cultured and comfortable lifestyle, Beckett, as the dutiful unmarried daughter, was unable to concentrate solely on her painting but was obliged to care for aging parents. She had no dedicated studio and, in the early mornings or late evenings, wheeled her easel, brushes and canvases in a small cart around the shoreline or cliffs near her home in Beaumaris. It was this passion for realism – painting outdoors – that, in 1935, contributed to her death from pneumonia after being soaked in a rainstorm while painting near her home.
Her evocative subject matter includes foggy suburban streetscapes that are either punctuated by the verticals of electric light poles or pierced by acid yellow headlights, and smoky sunsets that glow with reflections into the bay.
Sandringham beach is one of the artist’s later works where she used a stronger palette to define the structural elements of bathing boxes, bathers, horses and riders, shadows, ocean and vegetation shimmering and dissolving in the sunlight. In this painting, she seemed to move away from the impressionistic realism of the earlier works to experiment with elements of Modernism, by reducing the scene to its basic forms.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002