Gustave Courbet first saw the Mediterranean in 1854, when he was the guest of his patron Alfred Bruyas, a wealthy collector from Montpellier. Busy completing portraits and other commissions for Bruyas, he seems to have painted only a few seascapes during this visit. The Phillips painting was probably painted during a second visit to this coastal area three years later.
In keeping with prevailing attitudes, Duncan Phillips initially minimized Courbet’s intellect and learning, identifying him as an unrelenting realist who had earned his place in the history of art by challenging sentimentality and dogma through an instinctual approach to painting. As his appreciation of Courbet’s talent grew however, his appraisal became more subtle: “In a large sense (Courbet) was himself a romantic poet of the type of Walt Whitman, inspired and eloquent in his revelations of the elemental forces of Nature, and the immensity of the sea and sky, the structure and sap of the brown old earth and of the fine, fleshy and formidable folk who subsist thereon.”