Painted circa 1875-1877, this collaborative work between Gustave Courbet and his principal assistant Cherubin Pata is a copy of one of Courbet's "wave" pictures of 1869. Courbet saw the sea as a metaphor for the infinite majesty of nature over man. The idea of painting the power of a single wave had been explored earlier by such artists as James MacNeill Whistler, Claude Monet and even Victor Hugo and it has been suggested that Japanese prints such as Hokusai's The Wave from One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji may have also influenced Courbet (see S. Faunce and L. Nochlin, Courbet Reconsidered, exh. cat., The Brooklyn Museum, 1988, p. 188-191). Courbet and Pata had used this subject in an earlier collaboration of 1873-77, Marée Montante (R. Fernier, Courbet, Geneva, 1978, II, p. 244, no. 16) in which the waves break against a rocky shore.
In August of 1869 Courbet had made a two month sojourn to Etretat on the coast of Normandy where he painted over twenty seascapes. He was accompanied on this trip by the novelist Guy de Maupassant who described Courbet at work on this trip: "From time to time he went and pressed his face against the windowpane to look at the storm. The sea came up so close that it seemed to beat right against the house, which was smothered in foam and noise" ("La vie d'un Paysagiste", Gil Blas, September 28, 1886). This trip remained an inspiration to Courbet in his later works such as La Vague in which he relates the awesome power of nature through the angry sea and approaching squall that dominate the composition. The drama of the scene is enhanced by the forceful manner in which it is painted with palette knife and brush, and by the contrast between the whites of the cresting waves and sunlit clouds with the darker tones of the deep sea and stormy sky. Almost abstract in their configuration, the "wave" paintings caused a sensation when they were first shown. Paul Cezanne described them when he wrote, "...a tangle of flying spray, a tide drawn from the depths of eternity, a ragged sky, the livid sharpness of the whole scene. It seems to hit you full in the chest, you stagger back, the whole room reeks of sea and spray" (quoted in A. Germinger, Courbet, Geneva, 1971, p. 112-114).
The painting has been authenticated by Jean Jacques Fernier, and will be included in the forthcoming supplement to his catalogue raisonné under the category; "Tableaux peints en Collaboration."