Richard La Presti’s new cycle of paintings of the crowd-packed beaches of summertime Long Island is a formidable achievement. These paintings, in which dozens and even hundreds of figures congregate amidst blazing sunshine and sea and sand, combine forcefulness and elegance in ways that bear comparison with works by the greats who’ve set figures in the midst of landscapes—with the racetrack paintings of Dufy, Marquet’s crowded harbors, the Venice of Canaletto, and even Watteau’s fête champêtre. La Presti’s subject is what happens when people take off most of their clothes and bathe in the sea and bask in the sun. The artist who regards the raucous scene is a bit like the lifeguard who, in a number of paintings, is perched above the crowd in an elevated chair. La Presti is watching over the scene, vigilant, up to any challenge. To do such populous landscape paintings is quite a challenge for an artist: he...


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