Painted circa 1876-1880, Sur la plage is a perfect example of the charming beach scenes for which Eugène Boudin is best known. It was with paintings such as Sur la plage that Boudin had earlier invented a unique genre of modern seascape that was 'his alone' (J. Castagnary, Salon de 1869, quoted in V. Hamilton, Boudin at Trouville, exh. cat., Glasgow & London, 1992, p. 59). Boudin depicted the elegant and fashionably dressed of society at leisure on the beach. This he did with a remarkable deftness and lightness of touch, as exemplified in the fluid, quick brushwork of Sur la plage.
During the nineteenth century, the seaside villages of Trouville and Deauville on the Normandy coast were transformed into large resorts by a newly affluent bourgeoisie who, in imitation of their aristocratic countrymen, flocked there in the summer months. It was this new world of the bourgeoisie at play and display at the seaside that Boudin captured in his own very particular way: 'Nobody apart from M. Boudin has seen or painted the joyous intermixing of colours of these elegant costumes, the rustling of the fabrics in the breezes from the sea, the contrast, so specific to our own time, of what is most mobile and inconstant with the eternally grandiose spectacle of the ocean. In truth, no-one previously has ever paraded their love of nature so extravagantly' (E. Chesneau, quoted in J. House, 'Representing the Beach: The View from Paris', in J. House, Impressionists by the Sea, exh. cat., London, 2007, p. 25). In Sur la plage, Boudin divides the composition into horizontal bands of silver-streaked sky and water and blonde-toned sand with the seated and standing figures arranged into small groups in a frieze-like manner; as Castagnary had remarked, 'How good they look in their picturesque surroundings and what a good picture the ensemble creates' (Castagnary, quoted in Hamilton, op. cit., 1992, p. 59). Boudin's ability to convey atmospheric effects and his advocacy of painting en plein air greatly influenced the Impressionists, particularly Claude Monet who later declared, 'I owe everything to Boudin and I am grateful to him for my success' (Monet, quoted in ibid., p. 44).