Sorolla was drawn to the area by the bay's reputation for violent, stormy seas, which provided him with ample opportunities to paint his favoured coastal landscapes.
Sorolla is famous for his remarkable skill at capturing transient weather conditions. In Breakwater, his languid, fluid brushtrokes convey the immense power of the Atlantic Ocean's turbulent waves as they crash into the Bay of Biscay. Deft touches of grey tinged with green, highlight the incredible depth of the waves as they surge forward. The white foam of the waves as they break in upon each other appears relatively sparingly, yet it creates a realistic sense of distance as one looks across the bay. Above the ocean, the grey clouds charged with their chaotic white splashes, perfectly mirror the powerful action of the waves. Together they create a sense of relentless urgency and movement.
The conflict between sea and sky is broken only by the distant ridge of cliffs rising up from the far side of the Bay. In tones of grey, brown and moss green tinged with purple, Sorolla effortlessly portrays the strength of the coast as it stands firm against the atmospheric onslaught. The cliffs form an arena that ends at the lower edge of the canvas where a viewer of this powerful art work joins the few brave souls who have gathered along the promenade to watch the spectacular display of the Atlantic's storm.
Sorolla's preferred technique of painting in 'plein air' is no doubt a continuation of the Impressionists' use of colour and brush stroke to capture the brilliant contrasts and depths created by natural light. In Breakwater, Sorolla's palette of grey and green tones provides the landscape with a sense of completeness, emphasisng how the strong winds act in unison with the sea. Their sublime power is sharply contrasted by the row of tiny, windswept figures marginalised at the lower edge of the canvas. Only the wall edging the promenade of San Sebastian protects them from the destructive strength of the sea. Ultimately, Sorolla successfully conveys the collective weakness of human beings when pitted against the overwhelming power of nature.