While traditional landscapes held little interest for Whistler, he claimed, “The sea to me, is, and always was, most fascinating!” Rendered with simplicity, his seascapes of Southend, a popular seaside destination south of London, rely on broad washes of color with sparse detail. Whistler was a master at creating a mixture of pigments that produced a tonally balanced palette. His seascapes were often organized in a three-part composition of sky, sea, and shore.
Whistler traveled to St. Ives in southwest England in late 1883, intent on producing works to sell at an upcoming solo gallery show in London. He had recently purchased supplies to paint en plein air, including a travel stool and a pochade box, a small case for carrying art materials. The artist reported he was “tremendously busy with lots of pictures of all kinds.” He moved easily between painting with watercolors or oils, yet his touch is lighter and his palette appears brighter in the watercolors. The watercolors from St. Ives are linked by their paper. Each contains traces of kaolin, a fine clay found in the hills of Cornwall and used in porcelain production.