Unseen on the open market since it was purchased from Lowry's dealer, Lefevre Gallery, the present work is from the artist's most joyful depictions of a sunny day on the North West coast. Painted during the 1940s and 1950s and seeking to capture the post-war mood of exuberance felt by the British people after the war had ended, Lowry created a series of beach scenes, bank holiday fairgrounds, and summer outings that celebrated Britain at play. Although the ominous industrial chimneys are just visible on the horizon, the mood is one of post war optimism: a multitude of figures are indulging in leisure activities on the sands in front of the seaside lodgings and boarding houses, as a flotilla of yachts drift out to sea.
Shelley Rohde has commented of these works, that they are 'no conventional scene[s] ... [they] feature bevies of men in bowler hats and business suits incongruously gathered on a sea shore, with a policeman in a helmet inexplicably emerging from the sea' (L.S. Lowry A Biography, Salford, 1999, pp. 319-320). The focus of many of these works is entirely on the characters that populate the expanse of the sand. Figures, who are fully clothed, seem almost oblivious to the fact that they are at the seaside, some lying in their city suits on the sands. However, in the present work, Lowry's cast of holidaymakers appear more determined to enjoy the possibilities of a sunny day, as the adults are not dressed for work in the city. Instead they push babies in prams or walk with dogs, and the girls wear summer dresses and the boys ride bicycles. The atmosphere is all together more relaxed and fewer people on the beach are forced to jostle for a view of the sea, or a space to sit on the sands. However, the hints of an industrial landscape beyond the composition, remind the viewer that this leisure break will soon be followed by the working week.
Michael Howard has commented on Lowry's beach scene of this period, July, the Seaside (1943; Arts Council Collection), 'the figures walk and occupy themselves as they would in any of his urban scenes. It is in these compositions that he comes closest to the crowded but immaculately considered canvases of Brueghel. Lowry's instinctive feel for the ebb and flow of people in the city is here translated to the beach, where the movement of the figures is counterpointed by that of the sea. His scenes celebrate the landscape of discreet holidaying, a world away from the noisy, vulgar realities of Blackpool Pleasure Beach, for example, and suggest the more tranquil, gentler resorts a few miles further south of that centre of robust liberality and licence. Despite Lowry's alleged liking for fairgrounds, these highly visible aspects of seaside resorts are transposed into scenes of ordered behaviour. His crowds are always ordered, never threatening, any display of the liberated carnival aspect of urban living, whether within or without the city, that may be found elsewhere in his work ... He celebrates the restrained, puritanical pleasures of doing nothing, or the banal activities that mask the private pleasures of observation and contemplation' (see M. Howard, Lowry A Visionary Artist, Salford, 2000, p. 231).
Throughout his life, the sea always held a particular fascination for Lowry. In his youth, holidays were spent at Lytham St Anne's on the Fylde coast at Easter, and at Rhyl, on the North West coast, during the summer. The present composition is redolent of the holiday landscapes that he knew from his youth. Later, Lowry used the sea as a metaphor in many of his compositions for universal ideas regarding the insignificance of man and the isolation of the human condition, but in Beach Scene we are presented with the joy of life and leisure in post-war Britain.