Please note that this painting has been requested for the forthcoming exhibition Sisley in England and Wales at the National Gallery of Art in London (12 November 2008 - 15 February 2009), and at the National Museum of Wales (7 March - 14 June 2009).
Sisley's La vague, Baie de Langland (Pays de Galles) is a powerful exploration of the effect of light on the sea as white-tipped waves crash on a solid mass of rock. The coastal scenes painted by the Anglo-French Impressionist in Wales (D.865-D.881) are the only seascapes in his oeuvre, and recall the atmospheric views of the Breton coast painted in 1886 by his friend Monet at Belle-Île-en-Mer. It was at the suggestion of one of Sisley's most significant patrons of the 1880s and 1890s, François Depeaux, that the artist spent the summer months from July to September of 1897 in Penarth, near Cardiff and at Langland Bay, a few miles from Swansea on the Gower Peninsula. He delighted in the natural beauty of the rocky, west facing coastline of the Gower Peninsula, writing on 18 August: 'I have been here for 5 days. The countryside is totally different from Penarth, hillier and on a larger scale. The sea is superb and the subjects are interesting, but you have to fight hard against the wind, which reigns supreme. I had not experienced this nuisance before, but I'm getting used to coping with it and I have already discovered the knack' (quoted in R. Shone, op. cit., pp. 188 & 192).
He was fascinated by the isolated outcrop of Storr's Rock in Lady's Cove (now called Rotherslade Bay) and made it the central focus of three compositions, including the present painting. The other two, both in national museums, include Storr Rock, Lady's Cove - Le Soir (D. 878) at the National Museum of Cardiff, which depicts the north face of the rock at low tide on a sunny evening with the small figure of a boy in the foreground lending scale to the rock's monumentality, and Langland Bay - Le Matin at the Kunstmuseum, Bern (D. 881). The present painting captures the scene at its most dramatic as a wave vigorously pounds the south face of the rock at high tide sending the sea spraying up- and outwards. The motion of the swirling sea contrasts with the solidity of the rock mass, and the light effects of the afternoon sun is a virtuoso study in luminosity.
Not only a period of significant creative fulfillment, Sisley's visit to Wales was also one of great personal importance as, on 5 August 1897 in Cardiff, he finally married his longtime companion, Eugénie Lescouezec after over thirty years of living together. They spent what was effectively their honeymoon at the Osborne Hotel on the edge of a cliff at Langland Bay overlooking Lady's Cove and the subject of the present painting.