Alfred Stevens found success with his paintings of elegant young women in imaginary situations, posed against highly decorative backgrounds. In 1880 he became ill with a lung condition and was advised to make regular trips to Normandy for his health, where he made a series of small paintings of the sea.
Once in Normandy he discovered and was influenced by Corot’s vibrant, flickering brushwork. In spite of damage to this painting it is still possible to catch a little of Stevens’s new, spontaneous approach, particularly on the darkened sand of the beach. In an angry light, men tending horses and carts stand at the water’s edge, while small craft out at sea are threatened by the huge, lowering thundercloud that sweeps forward towards them.
His jagged brushwork here is quite different from the smooth finish of his pictures of women, one of which, The Present, is also in the National Gallery’s collection.
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