In 1880 Alfred Stevens was advised to take the sea air as a remedy for a bronchial condition allegedly caused by breathing turpentine fumes. Acting on this advice, he began spending two months each year on the Normandy coast, especially in Honfleur. During these visits he painted seascapes and the hotel society of the seaside resorts. The enthusiastic public response to these subjects convinced his Parisian dealer, Georges Petit, to guarantee Stevens 50,000 francs for his output of marine paintings each season. The exact settings of Stevens’s many seascapes are not known; those he exhibited at the Salon de Mar in 1892 were painted in the Le Havre-Honfleur area of Normandy, at the mouth of the Seine, although those exhibited in May 1893 were painted at Loctudy, in the west of Brittany. However, it is likely that his marine paintings from the 1880s were done in the Sainte-Adresse/Le Havrve area of Normandy, where he is known to have stayed between 1880 and 1886.
In the Dumbarton Oaks painting, a summer storm has either passed by a beach scene or, more likely, is gathering in the distance, seemingly of little concern to the girl playing in the sand or the two women walking along the beach with parasols. Stevens's interest to depict the Normandy coast under different lighting and atmospheric conditions—especially moonlight and storms—was clearly influenced by the advent of French Impressionism in the 1870s but it also relates to similar interests of seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish painters, which Stevens particularly admired. Stevens himself owned a nocturnal seascape by Aert van der Neer (ca. 1603-1677), as did his close friend Édouard Manet (1832-1883), whose own painting of a nocturnal seascape, the 1869 Moonlight over Boulogne Harbor (Musée d'Orsay, Paris), was in Stevens's studio when it was purchased by the dealer Paul Durand-Ruel in 1872.
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1952.
Purchased from Dalzell Hatfield Galleries, Los Angeles, California, by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, 9/9/1943.
Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, D.C., 9/9/1943-11/29/1940.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, D.C.