Oil on canvas
77 x 155.1 cm
Bought from the artist by Messrs Lloyd, 1854; from whom bought by Queen Victoria, 1854 (£1,000)
The artist included a self-portrait (peeping over the shoulder of the man on the far right), while the little girl paddling in the centre staring directly at the painter is thought to have been his daughter.
Frith went for a holiday in Ramsgate in 1851. He was 'weary of costume painting' and 'I was determined to try my hand on modern life, with all the drawback of unpictureque dress. The variety of character on Ramsgate Sands attracted me - all sorts and conditions of men and women were to be found there. Pretty groups of ladies ... reading, idling, working and unconciously forming themselves into very paintable compositions.'
Frith worked on various studies and sketches for several years and in 11 Sept 1853 noted in his diary 'Will all this repay me in any way? I doubt it.'
The finished painting was actually rejected by half a dozen patrons until it was accepted for the RA Summer Show. One description of it was as 'a piece of vulgar Cockney business unworthy of being represented even in an illustrated paper.' But it was voted Picture of the ear by the journal Royal Academy Pictures before being bought by Queen Victoria (who had visited Ramsgate in her childhood)
Inscribed on the back with the title (Life at the Sea side) and the name of the artist
Bills, Mark, and Vivien Knight, eds. William Powell Frith: Painting the Victorian Age. New Haven & London: Yale Univ. Press, 2006.