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Oil painting - Rocky Coast with figures and boats
  • Rocky Coast with figures and boats
    Clays, Paul Jean, born 1819 - died 1900
  • Enlarge image

Rocky Coast with figures and boats

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Date:

    1855 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Clays, Paul Jean, born 1819 - died 1900 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on canvas

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Paul-Jean Clays (1817-1900) was born in Bruges but studied in Paris with Horace Vernet (1789-1863) and the marine artist Théodore Gudin (1802-1880). He later joined the cicle of the mathematician Adolphe Quételet, Director of the Brussels Observatory, which included many of the leading artists and scientists of the time.

This painting is a typical example of Clays' prolific output of marine paintings. It represents a Dutch or Flemish coast at low tide bathed in the sunlight, with a cliff on the right hand-side, a boat and figures on the beach. Clays combined seascape and genre painting and, like many artists of his generations, was particularly interested in the pictorial rendering of light.

Physical description

A Dutch of Flemish coast at low tide bathed in the sunlight, with a cliff on the right hand-side, a boat and figures on the beach.


1855 (painted)


Clays, Paul Jean, born 1819 - died 1900 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Oil on canvas

Marks and inscriptions

'P. J. Clays 1855'
Signed and dated by the artist, lower right


Height: 60.3 cm estimate, Width: 95.2 cm estimate, :

Object history note

Bequeathed by Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend, 1868
Ref : Parkinson, Ronald, Catalogue of British Oil Paintings 1820-1860. Victoria & Albert Museum, HMSO, London, 1990. p.xix.

'Chauncy Hare Townshend (1798-1868) was born into a wealthy family, only son of Henry Hare Townsend of Busbridge Hall, Godalming, Surrey. Educated at Eton and Trinity Hall, Cambridge (BA 1821). Succeeded to the family estates 1827, when he added 'h' to the Townsend name. He had taken holy orders, but while he always referred to himself as 'Rev.' on the title pages of his books, he never practised his vocation... . Very much a dilettante in the eighteenth-century sense, he moved in the highest social and literary circles; a great friend of Charles Dickens (he was the dedicatee of Great Expectations) with whom he shared a fascination of mesmerism... Bulwer Lytton described his life's 'Beau-deal of happiness' as 'elegant rest, travel, lots of money - and he is always ill and melancholy'. Of the many watercolours and British and continental oil paintings he bequeathed to the V&A, the majority are landscapes. He is the first identifiable British collector of early photographs apart from the Prince Consort, particularly landscape photography, and also collected gems and geological specimens.'

Historical significance: This painting is a good example of Clays' prolific output of Marine paintings, a subject matter that he favoured throughout his career. He depicted many seascapes including scenes of the Belgian and Dutch coast. Essential characteristics of his art, exemplified in the present painting, are a painstaking brushwork and a palette dominated by blue, ivory and red-brown tones. Clays was attracted from earliest childhood by the sea and developed a style that goes back to the 17th century of marine painting with such paintings as Marine, Stadhuis, Bruges and Seapiece Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp. He followed in this trend the Romantic Belgian painter Charles Louis Verboeckhoven (1802-1889).
In this painting, ordinary people are involved in daily activities such as repairing the fishnets and fishing from a carved stream out of the sand at low tide. As he combine in doing so marine painting and genre scene, Clays also participate to the Belgian genre school that focused on an immediate contact with their subjects and displayed a new realism that would precede and announce the school of The Hague. The artistic links between the northern and the southern parts of the Netherlands were indeed still very strong even after the independence of Belgium in 1830.

Historical context note

The artistic relationship between the Northern and the Southern Netherlands, that is modern-day Holland and Belgium, were very strong during the 19th century especially after the proclamation of the Kingdom of Netherlands in 1815. The Prix de Rome was awarded equally to Antwerp and Amsterdam artists, even after the independence of Belgium in 1830. The majority of Belgian art of the first half of the 19th century, including history painting, genre scenes, landscape and portrait paintings, articulated a new national pride which nevertheless drew upon French academic taste. Such artists as Jean-Bernard Duvivier (1762-1837), Henry Leys (1815-1869) and Karel Verlat (1824-1890) made extensive use of these renewed genres in their oeuvre. Focusing on the achievement of a greater realism, Belgian artists travelled a great deal, not only for training purposes in the tradition of their artistic predecessors but for the sake of discovering new surroundings and making new acquaintances: Paris was the favourite destination. While Italy also remained a popular destination, the majority of these artists tended to move on to other areas of interest, such as Morocco, less for their artistic traditions, and more for their exotic aspects.

Descriptive line

Oil painting, 'Rocky Coast with Figures and Boats', Paul Jean Clays, 1855

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

C.M. Kauffmann, Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, II. 1800-1900, London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 19, cat. no. 49.
A. Berqueman, Avec J.P. Clays au littoral belge, Brussels, 1946.


Oil paint; Canvas


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Marine; Coast-lines; Boats; Figures (representations); Cliff




Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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