Following are paintings in various medium depicting typical seaside scenes of men and boys swimming during the Victorian through late Edwardian Eras. They memorialize scenes commonly experienced at such seaside venues of their day.
In the 18th century, medical practitioners began to advocate the healthful benefits of salt water and ocean "sea-bathing", which prior generations had avoided. During the Georgian (pre-Victorian) Era, bathing at the sea in the nude was common as the seaside was far less populated. But as public sea-bathing increased, women began to wear bathing costumes while "bathing machines" were invented to further protect the modesty of women as well as bathing costumes; however men continued to bathe nude. Bathing machines were horse drawn carriages that provided people a place to remove their clothes in private while the carriages were backed into the surf. Women would typical don a flannel or canvas bathing costume while men remained nude. Assisting the bathers were "dippers", people who earned a fee for providing the bathing machine and helping the users into the surf. The bathing machines for women were aggregated in the same area and were always attended to by female dippers. Dippers for the male users of bathing machines were both men and women. The 1789 etching to the left depicts Miss Martha Gunn dipping the nude Prince Regent, son of King George III, as minstrels play in the surf. Watching the affair are a number of ladies, which shows the contrast in that women were free to mingling about where the nude men were being dipped; however, it was considered indecent for men to be anywhere in the vicinity of the women being dipped as historical accounts indicate how when wet, the ladies' bathing costumes would reveal their figure's silhouette, something that was disallowed the prying eyes of men.
Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) was an English impressionist painter. Her painting to the right is of an English coastal port during the Victorian Era and depicts a very common scene at British seaside areas where boys and girls would gather to play in the ocean. As can be seen, girls of the period dressed very conservatively such that even their knees were typically hidden from the eyes of the boys (typical of Victorian conservatism). However, at the same time and place, the boys playing in the sand and waters with these girls were often stark naked from head to foot with their entire bodies on full display for the girls to see. As articles in this site evidence, this painting shows it was common in many (but not all) seaside areas for clothed girls and naked boys to share the same beach area and play together, with these boys sometimes being as old as 15 or more enjoying the affair naked.
Here is another painting of Knight. About a dozen boys frolic on the dock area and surf naked with one girl (wearing a large bonnet indicative of the late Victorian era) removing her shoes to no doubt join them. Other girls and a woman monitoring the scene can be seen in the background.
Joaquin Sorolla (1863-1923) was a Spanish painter during the Victorian and Edwardian era. His is well known for his landscapes and seaside paintings portraying scenes of his time. Here he immortalized a boy and girl. She wears a long dress covering most of her, typical of Victorian modesty. Her male companion, however, is completely naked.
Joaquin Sorolla "Sea Idyll"
Another in a series that Sorolla featured the same couple as "On the Sand"
A third painting feature the same young couple, holding hands in young romance as the naked young man escorts the beautifully dressed young lady to the water.
In what seems to be a similar theme, the young man wraps the girl in a blanked to dry her. These two appear to be older, and implies that at least on these shores, young men in their teens would disport themselves naked while attending to the pretty young women that they fancied.
Joaquin Sorolla "Running Along the Beach"
Here is another painting by Sorolla depicting boys and girls playing at the beach. Their conservative Victorian era dress reflects the extreme modesty women held of the day, while the boy is stripped of all modesty, and all his clothes.
Another artistic depiction showing how common dress for boys was sans bathing trousers.
Joaquin Sorolla "Bathing Time"
A girl waits at the shore with a blanket while throngs of boys swim nude.
Benito Rebolledo Correa "Children on Beach at Sunset"
Benito Rebolledo (1880-1964) was another artist famous for his seascape renderings. Here, boys and girl play on the beach at sunset. Of importance to note is that it was typical that when boys and girls of the same age were together at public swimming spots, girls were dressed in conservative clothes that covered knees and elbows, whereas boys were typically completely naked.
Benito Rebolledo Correa "Boys at Beach"
Another painting by Correa depicting boys at play at the beach during the period.
Max Liebermann "Youths Bathing"
Max Liebermann (1847-1935) was a German painter known for his prints and etchings of coastal areas during the Victoria/Edwardian eras. This painting shows us a group of boys stripping naked to play in the ocean ties. In the background, one can see a large crowd implying this was probably at a better known seaside resort.
Max Liebermann "Boys Bathing - Etching"
In this etching, Liebermann portrays another Victorian scene of boys swimming in the nude at the beach. As can be seen in the rendering, the boys are not isolated, but instead immediately next to the crowded throngs at the beach, which is consistent with the descriptions of the day. In the background, two "bathing machines" can be seen out in the waves, which dates this etching probably towards the latter part of the 19th century.
Max Liebermann "Boys Bathing"
Another artistic portrayal of life at the beach for boys during the period.
Paul Gauguin "Breton Boys Bathing"
Paul Gaugin (1848-1903) was a French Post-Impressionist Artist. This is a rendering of boys and girls bathing in the Brittany region of France. Boys seemingly feel unabashed in being nude in the presence of the girls, who are conservatively clothed in Victorian style, proper for girls of their day in such a setting.
Peder Severin Krøyer "Summer Day at the South Beach of Skagen, 1884"
Peder Severin Krøyer (1851-1909) was a Danish painter. The beach scene is near Skagen in Denmark, and depicts a crowd of naked boys sea bathing while a small girl watches. Up the beach are older individuals.
Carl Larsson (1853 – 1919, Swedish) - A Good Place to Swim
Unknown Illustration - Margate, English Seaside Resort
In the historical biographical book, "Privilege and Scandal" by Janet Gleeson, the life and affairs of Henrietta Frances Spencer, Countess of Bessborough are presented. An illustration in the book features the caption below. What is interesting is how the book discusses how these stark naked boys that frequented the seaside resorts were often older and well into their teens. Articles found on this website corroborate this, even to the point where there are accounts of women professing that they preferred the older boys to be nude as they enjoyed the pleasure of viewing them, often bringing their opera glasses to the beach for such delights.
Ozkar Glatz (1872-1958) was a Hungarian artist and illustrator. His works include paintings of the Victorian and Edwardian eras in Hungary. In the painting to the right, he shows us a scene in the early 1900s of the shores of Lake Balaton in his native Hungary, which had become wone of the largest tourist destinations in the 19th century. In this rendering a group of naked boys are launching a boat as a girl stands and watches. What is interesting about this painting are the ages of the boys, which appear to be well into their teens. This corroborates accounts such as Lavina Spencer's note and other documents on this site that these boys were often well into their teens, some even approaching manhood, yet still frolicked about naked on shores in a mixed gender setting during the Victorian and Edwardian eras.
In Glatz's rendering of teen boys wrestling to the left, the surroundings are also the shores of Lake Balaton, presumably done about the same time as the painting above. It seems that even when the activities were not involving the water, many of these teenage boys still remained naked.
The dress of the young ladies in the rendering to the right would imply this painting depicts a shoreline somewhere during the late Victorian era. The girls' arms and ankles are exposed, which would have not be considered proper for young ladies in earlier decades. But their dress, which was more common later during the Victorian and early Edwardian era, reveals that it was still considered immodest for girls to allow boys to see anything below their necklines or their knees. However, a boy being completely nude in their presence was not considered immodest, but perfectly appropriate.
This painting was done subsequent to the actual era it portrays. The young ladies are wearing more conservative dress, typical of what girls were expected to wear during the Victorian era, yet the boy is wearing shorts and a cap more associated with the Edwardian era. Again, the boys' full nudity would been consistent with either era.
In the rendering to the right, the Russian artist depicts a seaside scene of a group of young ladies watching eight boys, probably in their teens, as they frolic about in the waves naked. This painting corroborates many historical reports that during this era, despite some notions to the contrary, there was often no separation of the genders, and the girls and boys even played together. During this period, it was often viewed that if the girls exposed their knees to boys, it was deemed immodest and inappropriate; however, the boys, who were sometimes well into their teens, were often completely naked with no secrets held form the eyes of the girls that were with them. Such bathing attire was considered perfectly normal for many seaside environs in the UK, Europe and other places around the world. Today, it is still considered acceptable for boys to swim and play naked, including Indonesia, India and Africa.
Ernest Procter was a Cornish designer, illustrator and painter, and husband to the famed artist Dod Procter. Unlike his wife, he did not specialize in portraits but did share her interest in the neo-impressionistic art style, which he demonstrates in his depiction of Newlyn Beach in Cornwall to the left. Procter did a number of interesting beach scenes that show that most boys practiced nude bathing, although females did not. These paintings were being done in the first decades of the 20th Century during the Edwardian years. We again see that despite the boys' nudity, boys and girls were not separated onto different parts of the beach; rather they shared the same spot and played together.
Ernest Procter (1886-1935) - Beach Swimming
On this crowded beach in the painting to the right, Procter memorializes what it was like to be there in Cornwall during the first part of the 20th century. The boys lifting up his shirt and exposing his genitals to the girl appears to be in his early teens, which again demonstrates the age range wherein boys would swim nude was well into the teens. Historic reports of the era state that grown men would also practice nude bathing, but would typically provide a greater distance between them in the ladies. We do have, however, rare historic film of this era, which does show that sometimes the naked men would pass next to the ladies in the surf and give a friendly "hello!"
Ernest Procter (1886-1935) - Summer Holidays
In this painting, Procter shows us a Cornwall beach, probably around 1920. One can see there are boys and girls of all ages densely packed together horse playing and frolicking about. Upon close look, one can see that virtually all the boys are nude, whereas the girls are wearing swimming costumes that were in favor after WWI. At lease for Cornish beaches, many were still seeing nude bathing practiced by the boys as the 20th century progressed.
Bodganov-Belski (1868 – 1945) shows us another lakeside scene typical of the later Victorian or early Edwardian era. In this rendering, a group of eight naked boys are playing tug-o-war, completely unconcerned about anyone else watching. As evidenced in the other period-specific paintings, it would have been unsurprising if a group of girls their age were right there on the banks watching these boys.
Although the above era-specific paintings evidence that boys often did swim nude in public, including when in the presence of girls, there are virtually no similar paintings or photos in existence that depict the opposite. The postcard to the left was created in 1910 and mailed in 1923. It evidences that the privacy of the female was so protected that when a young female attempts to enjoy waters naked, boys clamor and secretly spy on her. It reveals two things. First, female nudity, even at such a young age, was simply something boys never experienced outside of situations wherein they were relegated to sneaking up and secretly peeking. Second, it also shows that even at a young age, children are aroused and find interest in seeing the the opposite sex nude, even if their prurient purpose in doing so in not yet fully understood by them. As can be read in the historic journals of this website, young females also found similar interests in looking at the genitals of the naked boys frolicking about on the beach. As written by the mother in "The Traveller's Journal", she notes her daughters' and other girls' interest in looking at what the mother called "that part of these boys that are concerned with their reproduction" . However, as shown in the postcard to the left where boys are disciplined if caught spying on females in the nude, girls of the era were not only allowed to, but mothers such as the one in the Journal above viewed it as healthy and encouraged the girls to enjoy themselves in looking at the naked boys.
Downloading Above Photography and Art
The above works are included in electronic file folders compressed and then uploaded to Depositfiles.com. The entire download, including certain videos, can be accessed by the link at the bottom of the following sub-page (please note - a separate download is required for original documents, which c an be found on the sub-page "Archives - Early 20th Century and After"):