The son of a mariner, Boudin worked as a cabin boy on his father's ship. This early experience with confronting the changing moods of the sea became the formative one in his artistic career. The current painting belongs to his most famous and popular series of beaches at Deauville and Trouville. The painter's interest in capturing the richly subtle mutability of the sea, and the elaborate leisure activities of those who frequent its shores, was also shared by the generation of artists who would become the Impressionists. Boudin's subtle innovations within such a pleasing plein air genre secured his artistic reputation. His rapid, almost sketch-like treatment of sky, water, and figures anticipates the spontaneous brushstroke and sensitivity for shifting color tonalities and weather effects that the Impressionists would display.
As a young man in 1847 Boudin had traveled to Paris in order to become a painter. There, he studied seventeenth-century Dutch marine subjects and landscapes, as well as paintings from the Barbizon school. He experienced early success, and was granted scholarships that allowed him to voyage around the country. Annual travel became a pattern for Boudin. It consistently refreshed his subject matter and also widened his social circle, bringing him into contact with his unofficial pupil Claude Monet, as well as Camille Corot, and another great master of the seascape, Gustave Courbet. He exhibited in the Salons from 1863 to 1897, but in an inclusion that points to his influence on younger artists, he was also represented in the first Impressionist Exhibition of 1874.
Boudin first visited Trouville around 1862. He had a great eye for the limitless skies and cloud formations he found along its shores. As in Scène de plage à Trouville, Boudin often dedicated more than half of the canvas to the nuances of a sky above the figures on the beach. Corot had no doubt of Boudin's skills saying simply, "Boudin, you are the king of the skies."
Charles Baudelaire described Boudin in similarly glowing terms in his Salon review of 1859. "On the margin of each of [his] studies, so rapidly and so faithfully sketched from the waves and the clouds (which are of all things the most inconstant and difficult to grasp, both in form and in color), he has inscribed the date, the time and the wind. If you have ever had the time to become acquainted with these meteorological beauties, you will be able to verify by memory the accuracy of M. Boudin's observations. Cover the inscription with your hand, and you could guess the season, the time and the wind. I am not exaggerating. I have seen it." (in "The Salon of 1859," Art in Paris, 1845-1862, Greenwich, 1965, pp. 199-200).
However attentive he was to the weather, Boudin was also a great student of human behavior and human nature. The figures in his beach scenes are painted with a brilliant and concise shorthand that accurately renders the vivacity and complexity of social interaction among the leisure classes of the Second Empire. Boudin celebrated their prosperity, their newfound mobility via France's new railway network, and their modern pursuit of leisure: the people seen here would have recently been in Paris to witness the remarkable progress of their era as it was trumpeted in the great Exposition Universelle of 1867.