In the autumn 1886 Claude Monet sought out rugged and barren terrain on the island of Belle-Île-en-Mer off the coast of Brittany. Centering his activity in the village of Kervilahouen on the Atlantic side of the island, he wrote to fellow Impressionist Gustave Caillebotte, “I’ve been here a month, and I’m grinding away; I’m in a magnificent region of wilderness, a tremendous heap of rocks and sea unbelievable for its colors; well, I’m very enthusiastic.” Still, Monet confessed to having trouble painting the wild ocean because he was used to painting the calmer channel waters.
In "Rocks at Belle-Île, Port-Domois," Monet depicted the grim sea beating away at the barren rocks, a theme he repeated and varied numerous times. He was sensitive to the topography of his surroundings and the need to alter his manner of looking accordingly. He wrote to his companion Alice Hoschedé, “I must make great efforts to make them [the rocks] somber, to render this sinister, tragic aspect.” He added that he felt “powerless to render the intensity” of the ocean crashing upon the rocky sentinels of the island. Yet he also recognized that he placed great demands on himself: “I’m chasing the merest sliver of color. It’s my own fault, I want to grasp the intangible.” The colors, forms, and atmosphere of this magnificent painting reveal that Monet was concerned as much with conveying turbulent emotion as with recording the appearance of a particular site.