I was very pleased to hear that my painting of Cromer Pier was chosen to be exhibited with The Royal Institute of Oil Painters Annual Exhibition 2019 at The Mall Galleries in London.
The Mall, London SW1
27 November 2019 to 8 December 2019
You can see more details on the website here. If you’re out and about in London it would be great if you could go along.
In the late summer last year, I was asked to take what turned out to be a seven-hour journey to Norfolk to paint two scenes in Morston. Norfolk is a handsome place so I had a mind to paint a few local pictures just for me. On map I saw the town of Cromer just up the coast, so Cromer it was.
Occasionally you get to a location and for some reason it just isn’t working. Cromer was like this. I did a quick drawing of the pier from the clifftop which I just couldn’t see it as a painting. The people were too small and that particular view had been painted so many times already, I had nothing to add.
No matter, it was lunchtime, so I bought a plate of Cod and chips and strolled down onto the beach to tuck in.
It was a warm day with families taking in the sunshine on the beach and a few more courageous souls braving what must have been a bitterly cold The North Sea.
With lunch finished I took out my watercolour pad and began to draw. I didn’t have a plan as I worked in the outline of the pier. My work tends towards an exaggeration of the real, so I made the upper structure much larger, with the structure as a whole foreshortened a little. It is Cromer pier as one would remember it, not necessarily as it is.
A people undivided
With that done I thought about the beach groyne and my first instinct was to leave it out as it formed a dark slash right through the middle of the composition creating a visual barrier or wall. It was divisive and reminded me of another well known ‘wall’, albeit one that hasn’t been built yet.
In this case of course the dark wall divides nothing but the beach and the people are happy to be on either side. They are all enjoying the same day out, the same sunshine and the same fish ‘n’ chips. Of course, this wall helps to preserve the sand on the beach and couldn’t be more benign.
An initial watercolour painting of Cromer Pier
As I worked in the watercolour I made side notes, which only happens when a larger painting is planned and as I sketched the beach-goers, I was given an amusing gift. A rather portly fella clambered over the small steps from one side of the groyne to the other. As he did so the struggle made his shorts slip down. Many a barely concealed snigger ensued, not least from me.
The final drawing of Cromer Pier
You can see the gentleman with the errant shorts to the left of this drawing and in the same place in the finished painting. A lovely sunny day in Cromer rewarded me with this scene and putting a few dark thoughts concerning walls aside, I had a creatively rewarding day that more than made up for the seven hour drive!
A bit about Cromer Pier
I was surprised to hear that a there are records of a pier on this site going all the way back to 1391. This would have been a far modest affair compared to today and certainly wouldn’t have been used for promenading.
Moving on to 1582 and the reign of Elizabeth I, Cromer was given an export licence with the profits going to the maintenance of the pier. Presumably this was a working pier used purely for industry.
In the early 19th century a 210-foot (64 m) long cast iron pier was built though lasted only 24 years when it was destroyed in a storm. Soon after a longer 240 feet (73 m) wooden pier replaced it.
By this time the railways were expanding and Cromer began to grow as a tourist destination. So began the fashion of promenading. It must have been viewed as a mite daring as smoking was prohibited and women were banned from the pier after 9 pm. I couldn’t find out why.
All was well until 1897 when a coal barge ploughed into it one night wrecking it beyond repair.
The pier today
What we see today, was built in 1902 and is 450 feet (140 m) long. There have been bandstands and a roller-skating rink added over time, not to mention a lifeboat station. Cromer Pier is still as popular as ever.
I don’t know why we British have such a love for these odd structures. Why do we need to wander out on them, only to wander back again? Is it a bit like going on a ship? Or is it the feeling of space? I have no idea but every time I see a pier, I too get the urge to walk right to the end, grab some fish and chips and wander back again, often with a bizarre sense of achievement.
My visit to Cromer Pier
On the day I visited Cromer pier, it was a warm afternoon and was teaming with families. The main pastime being crabbing. This entails small children lowering string into the water with a stone and a bit of bacon tied to the end. Then, after juggling it around the bottom for a bit, they carefully pull it up hoping to find an angry crab clinging to the bacon, steadfastly, pugnaciously, refusing to give up its dinner.
This wee fellow is then bucketed with other crabs. The game is to get as many crabs as possible, with an extra bonus for the largest crab. Once the game is over, all the crabs are tipped back into the sea. Pointless but fun.