Manet painted this canvas in the summer of 1873, during three weeks spent with his family in the little coastal town of Berck-sur-Mer. He had his wife and his brother pose for him on the beach as is shown by the grains of sand mixed with the paint. Suzanne, well protected against the sun and the wind by a muslin veil and a voluminous summer dress, is absorbed in her book.
Eugène, the painter's brother and soon to be the husband of Berthe Morisot, is gazing out to sea, lying in the same position as ten years earlier in Lunch on the Grass. The two triangles formed by the figures stabilise the composition. They are turning their backs on a spectator and seem to be absorbed in their own worlds. This isolation gives the painting an indefinable melancholic feel.
The narrow range of tones used by Manet includes the blacks and greys usually banned from the Impressionist palette. He has borrowed from the young school a fluid, light brushstroke which suggests more than it describes. This impression is particularly strong in the landscape which seems almost slapdash: thus the horizon with a few bobbing sailboats is placed near the edge of the canvas, as if the painter had transgressed the rules of perspective.
The variations in the colour of the sea from dark ultramarine blue to emerald green are rendered by a gradation of strips of horizontal colour building up to a powerful crescendo. The result is a lack of depth and a flattened effect.
That is why this work is considered to be one of Manet's paintings in which the Japanese influence was most strongly felt.
The painting, which once belonged to the couturier Jacques Doucet, is displayed in a superb art deco frame painted with red and black lacquer which accentuates its far Eastern character.