Art Deco by the Sea – an introduction

by Lucy Jane Santos

If you are on this site (hello!) then chances are that Art Deco by the Sea at the Sainsbury Centre, Norwich, is already on your radar. And the good news is that it won’t disappoint even the most ardent Art Deco aficionado- in fact it is delightful.

It begins with a thorough and interesting introduction to the background: in a new age of mass tourism, triggered by the right to paid holidays for all, coastal resorts were established (or revitalised) and transport networks modernised to meet the needs of holiday makers. Art Deco hotels, apartment blocks, cinemas and lidos changed the vista of seafronts, while the style permeated the ephemeral world of seaside fairgrounds, pleasure parks and ice cream parlours.

04 © Sonee Photography
© Sonee Photography

And this exhibition explores the transformational nature of Art Deco by focusing on five sections: Fishermen and Visitors; Depicting the Seaside; Travelling to the Sea; Designing the Seaside; Seaside Industries and Amusements by Day and by Night.

There are over 150 works in this exhibition – many of which have never been exhibited before and are drawn from private and public collections– and over the course of the space we are presented with paintings, photos, fashion, furniture and textiles.

There are some great pieces here – and I really enjoyed the painting Summer by Thomas Martine Ronaldson which had me yearning for better weather and a small cove in Cornwall.

01_Summer, Ronaldson, 1928 © Manchester Art Gallery
Summer, Ronaldson, 1928 © Manchester Art Gallery

Other notable sections are the ones dedicated to ECKO radios – the company (E.K.Cole Ltd) moved their factory to Southend on Sea in 1930 and became a major regional employer – and the really interesting display of Poole Pottery.

Above all Ghislaine Wood, Acting Director of the Sainsbury Centre and curator of this exhibition, is a master of the tableau vivant, and treats the visitor to a glamorously furnished leisure space of armchairs, sideboard and figure lamp as well as an outside swimming pool with mannequins in exquisite bathing costumes and caps. If this style of exhibit seems familiar it is worth noting that Ghislaine was also the behind the masterful Ocean Liner exhibition at the V&A in 2018.

03 © Sonee Photography
© Sonee Photography

Overall Art Deco by the Sea does a fabulous job at evoking the glamour of the past but also – poignantly reflects on the legacy of Britain’s seaside Art Deco heritage. I highly recommend saving to last the small screening room showing photographs of many of the Art Deco buildings and resorts today. Where once they spoke of optimism, progress, glamour and escape now they serve to emphasise the steep decline and poverty of British seaside resorts.

Here you will find the poignant end to Art Deco by the Sea and, what I hope, will be a call to action to appreciate and re-evaluate the heritage of our seaside resorts.

05 © Sonee Photography
© Sonee Photography


The show is organised by the Sainsbury Centre in partnership with the Laing Art Gallery Newcastle where the show runs 11 July – 11 October 2020.

9 February 2020 – 14 June 2020
£13 – £12 concessions 50% for under 18s, full-time students and Art Fund Members
FREE for Sainsbury Centre Members, UEA and NUA Student Members

ADSUK has organised a guided group tour on Saturday May 30th. For more information see here.

02 © Sonee Photography


Ghislaine Wood. Art Deco By the Sea

Timothy Wilcox. A Day in the Sun: Outdoor Pursuits in the Art of the 1930s

Fred Gray. Designing the Seaside: Architecture, Society and Nature

Lara Feigel and Alexandra Harris (ed). Modernism on Sea: Art and Culture at the British Seaside

Elain Harwood. Art Deco Britain: Buildings of the Interwar Years

Kathryn Ferry. The British Seaside Holiday

John Walton. The British Seaside: Holidays and Resorts in the Twentieth Century

Professor Val Williams and Dr Karen Shepherdson. Seaside Photographed


1 thought on “Art Deco by the Sea – an introduction

  1. Delighted to have come across you! Art Deco is a passion


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