Beecroft Art Gallery, Westcliff, Southend

Southend is a seaside resort with more in the way of amusement arcades than art, and the unexpected Beecroft Art Gallery may be reached through an hour's stroll from aesthetic Leigh on Sea as an alternative to the station at Westcliff. The line from London starts at Fenchurch Street, and the frequent trains take under the hour.

Walter Beecroft was a wealthy solicitor working in the Southend area who wished his own collection of pictures to form the basis of a local gallery. First mooted in the 1920s, it was 1951 before a trust set up by Beecroft was able to acquire a hotel for conversion into the 'Beecroft Art Gallery'. As well as giving the initial collection of pictures, Beecroft provided cash to buy further pictures. Another local man, Sydney Thorpe Smith, donated a collection of pictures of local interest, and together with the Beecroft collection, this forms the basis of the gallery's holdings.

The 19th century work includes a pencil drawing of Fanny Cornforth by Rossetti, and a modest watercolour of Thebes by Edward Lear. William Etty has a study of a male nude. Topographical works include a Hadleigh Castle by the Norwich School artist Henry Bright, a bold oil sketch of Southend Beach by Yeend King, and a Frank Brangwyn picture of the Thames in typical style. Lesser known artists represented include the local artist George Arthur Fripp, with over-romanticised seaside scenes around Southend, various small scenic views by Alfred Vickers, and small sea pieces by W R Thurnbery and William Anderson. Also notable are an atmospheric Leigh Bay by H. Dawson, Homeward Bound showing ships on a lively sea by John Callow, and a romanticised view of Leigh by W E Bates. There is an interesting unattributed The Harris Family dating from around 1850 showing 11 figures in an interior.

Earlier work includes a na´ve Dutch style Royal Terrace from the Sea by C. C. Coventry, a good architectural Ratisbon Cathedral by Samuel Prout, and a typically 18th century Christmas card style Winter landscape by George Morland. A pride of the collection is a small Constable, On the Stour.

Twentieth century works include an interesting Carol Weight Death of Lucretia, showing a woman being chased in the garden of a Victorian house, good portraits by Norman Hepple, William Orpen and Ruskin Spear, and other artists represented are Bawden, Nash, Seago, and Epstein.

Well outside the scope of these pages, it is worth mentioning that the collection also includes a few Dutch, Flemish, Italian and English pictures from the 16th-18th centuries.

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Victorian art in Britain

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