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Looking to Sea: Britain Through the Eyes of its Artists

Lily Le Brun

2 Reviews

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History of art & design styles: from c 1900 -

Looking to Sea is an alternative history of Britain in the twentieth century, told through the prism of ten iconic artworks of the sea, one for each decade.

'Looking to Sea is a remarkable and compelling book... I loved it.' Edmund de Waal

An alternative history of modern Britain, Looking to Sea is an exquisite work of cultural, artistic and philosophical storytelling.

Looking to Sea considers ten pivotal artworks, from Vanessa Bell's Studland Beach, one of the first modernist paintings in Britain, to Paul Nash's work bearing the scars of his experience in the trenches and Martin Parr's photographs of seaside resorts in the 1980s, which raised controversial questions of class. Each of the startlingly different pieces, created between 1912 and 2015, opens a window onto big ideas, from modernism and the sublime, the impact of the world wars and colonialism, to issues crucial to our world today like the environment and nationhood.

In this astonishingly perceptive portrait of the twentieth century, art critic Lily Le Brun brings a fresh eye to a vast idea, offering readers an imaginative new way of seeing our island nation.

'Le Brun's writing is at once bold and delicate, far-reaching and fine-tuned. Her book explores the inexhaustible variety of human perception.' Alexandra Harris

'A smart and clear-eyed set of meditations on marine gaze, made with a painterly touch worthy of the chosen artists. Empathy and intelligence lift memoir into cultural history.' Iain Sinclair

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Praise for Looking to Sea: Britain Through the Eyes of its Artists

  • This history of twentieth-century Britain, refracted through ten artistic responses to the sea, is beautifully written - authoritative and questioning; scholarly, but also vividly insightful about bodies, private lives, feelings, the often-overlooked quotidian.

  • Looking to Sea is a remarkable and compelling book. It is both a wonderfully sustained mapping of the intersection between artists, writers and the sea and a meditation on belonging and displacement. I loved it. - Edmund de Waal

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