William Dyce, 'Pegwell Bay, Kent - a Recollection of October 5th 1858' ?1858-60
William Dyce
Pegwell Bay, Kent - a Recollection of October 5th 1858 ?1858-60
Oil on canvas
support: 635 x 889 mm frame: 950 x 1200 x 125 mm
Purchased 1894

A rather beautiful October sunset from William Dyce. This painting is called ‘A Recollection of October 5th 1858’ because it was painted retrospectively after a family trip to Kent. That word ‘recollection’ adds an element of romanticism to the scene, as if Dyce is conjuring up hazy memories, nostalgic for his holidays. Dyce’s choice of colours is romantic too; the pinky hues of the cliffs and the sand below them, with purple-grey wisps of evening clouds creeping across the sky.

I’m from Portsmouth on the south coast, and for me this painting perfectly captures those autumny afternoons on the beach when the sea seems to become almost silver as it reflects the sky, and the misty cold makes objects seem pale pink, blue and yellow. In this scene the women are wrapped up in shawls, which is definitely the right kind of clothing for the temperature at the moment, and it is strange to think that this time last year we had a small October heat wave and the coasts were filled with swimmers.


There is more than romanticism to this scene. Dyce was a religious man, yet his painting shows not only the structure of the cliffs but, invisible in reproduction, a comet - so that the new sciences of geology and astronomy with all their implications are represented. It is possible to read this low tide as echoing the 'melancholy,long withdrawing roar' of the 'Sea of Faith' in Matthew Arnold's poem 'Dover Beach', written in 1851. On another level, I seem to remember that Dyce reckoned that he had made £400 from the paintings which resulted from this week's holiday.