Wilson Steer was the first British painter to develop a fully fledged painting of sparkling light and colour in the open air Impressionist manner of Monet and his circle. He appears to have done this through his own study of the work of Monet which he possibly first came across as early as June 1883, when a substantial group of French Impressionist paintings was shown in London. However, in 1887 he went to Paris where it seems likely that he was forcibly struck by the Impressionists, since from the moment he got back he embarked on a series of luminous, highly coloured paintings which he continued until about 1894, when he adopted a more subdued style. These pictures are all beach or seaside scenes or maritime subjects. The Tate Gallery owns an important group of them, of which 'Boulogne Sands' is one of the most lightly and brilliantly executed [see also Tate Gallery N05256, N05766, N05351, N05374, N06008 and N03668]. Steer visited Boulogne regularly between 1888 and 1891; this painting was exhibited at the New English Art Club in November 1892 and is signed and dated 1892, but is thought to have been completed the year before. In 'Boulogne Sands' Steer achieves classic Impressionist vibrancy of colour and light by putting down pure colours in separate, lively touches and using large amounts of white. The vibrancy of colour also comes from Steer's use of strong oppositions of near complementary colours: the girls are arranged alternately dressed in blue and orange-red and this colour combination is repeated in the background with the orange-red striped bathing tents against the blue sky. Complementary colours are those which contrast with each other more strongly than with any other colour and therefore 'complete' or reinforce each other when placed together. The three primary colours and their complementaries are red-green, blue-orange, yellow-mauve, and each complementary is the secondary colour made by mixing the other two primaries. Scientific knowledge of complementary colours was of immense importance in modern painting from Impressionism onwards.
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.102