125-year-old painting depicts playful seaside scene

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by Jeannie Swales

This charming little picture evokes the pleasures of seaside holidays in days gone by.

But things haven’t changed so much – the picture is around 125 years old, but children still love to visit the beach, roll up their trousers and paddle, and play with buckets and spades.

Entitled Two Children at the Seaside, and painted in oils on canvas, the picture is small – just 34.5cm deep by 26cm wide. But the artist, Jan de Jong, has used the small space well, capturing his two subjects very 
affectingly.

There seems to be little known about de Jong, other than that he was, as his name suggests, Dutch, and was rather short-lived, living from 1863, or possibly 1864, to 1901.

He’s described as a watercolourist, landscape artist and etcher. His impressionistic work comes up for auction reasonably regularly, and is mainly of Dutch scenes, so it’s not unreasonable to assume that this painting depicts a Dutch beach.

What we do know is that the painting is part of the Laughton Collection, one of a number of paintings and other artworks given to the Borough of Scarborough over the course of many years by Scarborough 
hotelier Tom Laughton, brother of the movie star Charles.

The brothers had bought the Royal Hotel in the 1930s, and Tom set about collecting art for the walls.

“Walking round the hotel was like visiting a series of small exhibitions, each with its own special character,” he tells us in his wonderful memoir, 
Pavilions by the Sea. He goes on to list the artists whose work could be seen in the hotel, and it’s an extraordinary catalogue of talent: John Martin, William Etty, John Dunthorne (who, he tells us, was Constable’s painting assistant), William Huggins, Monsù Desiderio, Victor Pasmore, Graham Sutherland, Matthew Smith, Ivon Hitchens, Bruce Turner, Edward Bawden, Eric Ravilious...the Royal must have been the most remarkable place to stay.

At one point, the head of Sotheby’s picture department, John Rickett, visited to view the collection, and persuaded Tom to send 30 small paintings to the saleroom ‘to test his valuation’.

“He said, ‘You have so many, you will never miss them’,” says Laughton. “The sale more than proved his judgement. The thirty paintings fetched thirty-two thousand pounds; they had cost two thousand two hundred. I have never ceased to regret the sale – they were irreplaceable. The truth is, I am a collector not a dealer.”

That Laughton was born in Scarborough is our good fortune – his bequest of artwork to the town is also irreplaceable.

Two Children at the Seaside is part of the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects and artwork owned by the borough. For further information, please contact Collections Manager Jennifer Dunne on Jennifer.dunne@smtrust.uk.com or 01723 384510.