Gustave Courbet visited Alfred Bruyas in Montpellier in the summer of 1854 and during his stay went to the seaside town of Palavas, seeing the sea for possibly the first time in his life.
Courbet’s independence and strength comes through in this dramatic painting, a study of flatness and light evocative of an infinite sense of space. Dominated by the line of the horizon that divides the work in half, the heavy paint builds up the surface of the shore and gives depth to the calm sea as it stretches to the distance. Perched on a rocky outcrop the single figure of a man raises his hat, as if in a greeting or celebration of the sea. This figure may be Courbet or perhaps Bruyas, and the peculiar gesture perhaps reflects the excitement of the painter’s own experience of what was for him a novel landscape.