Scène de plage was painted in 1864, one of the great turning points in Eugène Boudin's career. For it was that year that he truly began to enjoy increasing recognition amongst artist friends, dealers and buyers, and the financial benefits that were concurrent with that. Scène de plage perfectly illustrates the source of Boudin's success at this time: this is a keenly observed beach scene, showing people in fashionable dress near the bathing machines, against a vast backdrop of nature: the sand, the strip of water, and the canopy of the acutely-rendered sky. Looking at Scène de plage, the viewer can sympathise with Corot's declaration: 'Boudin, you are the king of skies!' (Corot, quoted in J. Selz, Eugène Boudin, Naefels, 1982, p. 52).
At this time, Boudin was increasingly aware of the golden thread that others perceived in his delicate, elegant beach scenes. In addition to reaching new pinnacles in his painting, he was also becoming more aware of the workings of the art market, and was dedicating more time to the French capital, returning to the Norman coast that was his home mainly for artistic campaigns. During his time spent in Normandy in 1864, he was happy to be reunited with two friends: Johan Barthold Jongkind and Claude Monet. Each of these artists had common grounds in their concepts of what to depict, and how. Looking at Scène de plage, this is somewhat in evidence: the picture bears many of the hallmarks of what would later be called Impressionism.
In Scène de plage, Boudin has immortalised a spontaneous, fleeting moment on the seafront. Indeed, there is a vivid, almost visceral sense of the wind blowing and people moving. It is akin to a snapshot, an ephemeral instant captured for posterity. The informality of the scene is heightened by the presence of the bathing machines, with the donkey there to pull them. These were mobile constructions designed to protect the modesty of bathers during those more prudent times: the entire hut would be moved to the water, allowing people to change their clothes and enter the water without exposure to the wider public. While the presence of these huts, then, implies a certain behind-the-scenes glimpse of life on the beach, they also serve as important punctuation marks in the composition. Their rigid, angular sides, reflecting the light, add to the rhythm of the picture, adding a sense of balance akin to the later still life paintings of Giorgio Morandi. A similar effect is achieved in another picture from the same year, L'approche de l'orage, now in the Art Institute of Chicago.