This painting, one of several completed by Whistler in Trouville, portrays a lone figure on a beach, gazing out at the vast expanse of water before him. The subject's attention is drawn to two sailboats on the right side of the high horizon line. The bearded man on the shore is Gustave Courbet, a Realist painter who was Whistler's friend and who accompanied him to Trouville in 1865. Originally called Courbet - on Sea Shore, the title was later changed by Whistler to reflect his growing interest in connecting his paintings to musical compositions. The figure and the landscape are almost indistinguishable, blending seamlessly into the washes of color created by Whistler's sweeping brushstrokes of thinned paint.
The painting pays tribute to Courbet, who greatly influenced Whistler's early artistic development, while also signaling Whistler's departure from Courbet's realism in favor of Aestheticism. Trouville does not have a clear message or moral lesson. Instead, it showcases Whistler's exploration of color tones and paint application methods to evoke visual or sensory stimulation. This idea that color harmony, mood, and form beauty are more crucial than subject matter was at the heart of "art for art's sake," the proud motto of the Aesthetic movement, of which Whistler became a leading advocate. The soft colors and dreamy, atmospheric quality of the painting, produced through Whistler's broad, sweeping brushstrokes, also positions it as an important predecessor to the American Tonalist movement of the 1880s.