Using contemporary reviews of this major work, the artist’s own papers and a visit to the original site, this In Focus asks: is this a religious painting, a religious painting in disguise, or a painting about religious doubt?
Pegwell Bay, Kent – a Recollection of October 5th 1858 is a small painting by the Scottish artist William Dyce that depicts his family on the beach at a well-known coastal resort, with Donati’s comet just visible in the sky. At this time, traditional religious beliefs were threatened by new scientific discoveries, revealing the vastness of space and the great age of the Earth.
This project examines Pegwell Bay as a painting about newly formed conceptions of time and space and as a record of a particular place. It offers an in-depth discussion of the creation of Pegwell Bay, and casts fresh light on the painting’s reception and its relationship with contemporary photography and poetry.
Published in November 2016, the project is authored by Professor Christiana Payne (Oxford Brookes University) and includes contributions from Professor Fiona Stafford (University of Oxford) and Professor Clare A.P. Willsdon (University of Glasgow).