Corot made two visits to the Normandy coast upon his return from his first visit to Italy, one in 1829 and the other in 1830. Moreau-Nélaton and Robaut have dated a group of landscapes painted in Normandy in the towns of Honfleur, Le Havre, Trouville and Sainte-Adresse to the summer of 1830. It is very possible that Grosse-mer à Sainte-Adresse is one of these works.
The young artist spent a considerable amount of time making sketches of the effects of light reflecting on water. These early seacoast paintings are exercises in pure technique. There is a fluidity of palette achieved through subtle nuances of color that pervades the remainder of his oeuvre. Indeed, it was these qualities that contributed to Corot's influence upon ensuing generations of young artists, including the Impressionists. Pierre-Auguste Renoir wrote, 'There you have the greatest genius of the century, the greatest landscape artist who ever lived. He was called a poet. What a misnomer! He was a naturalist. I have studied ceaselessly without ever being able to approach his art. I have often gone to the places where he painted, ah, what trouble they have given me! It was his fault, Corot's, that I wanted to emulate him' (R. Gimpel, Diary of an Art Dealer, New York, 1963, entry for 20 March 1918, p. 28). That these early works had a profound influence is also reflected the in writing of Charles Baudelaire. 'Obviously this artist loves nature sincerely, and knows how to look at her with as much knowledge as love. The qualities by which he excels are so strong - because they are qualities of heart and soul - that M. Corot's influence is visible today in almost all the works of the young landscape painters - in those above all, who already have the good sense to imitate him and to profit by his manner before he was famous and at a time when his reputation did not extend beyond the world of the studio' (C. Baudelaire, Art in Paris, 1845-1862. Art and Other Exhibitions, ed. J. Mayne, London, 1965, p. 24).
It was here on the coast of Normandy that Corot worked to develop the palette as well as the compositional formulae that would mark the remainder of his artistic career. The depth of space created by the placement of the sea and sky are perfectly mastered, the cool diffused light is captured in harmonies of white, grey, blue and lavender and the buildings that mark the middle ground are almost abstract in their simplicity. This purity of technique enables the artist to capture the rare effects of light on land and sea in the cool light of an afternoon in Normandy.
Martin Dieterle confirmed the authenticity of this painting in 2001.