The Philadelphia-born Harrison studied at the Pennsylvania Academy before his 1879 departure for France, where he would spend the rest of his life, dividing his time between Paris and Brittany. In Paris he trained on the atelier of Jules Bastien-Lepage and at the Ecole des Beaux Arts with Jean-Léon Gérôme, an academic painter of oriental scenes who also trained Thomas Eakins and Mary Cassatt. Harrison became an important figure in the artist's colony at Concarneau in Brittany, and Cecilia Beaux, also connected with the colony, reported that his earlier training as an engineer influenced his analytical method of painting. Painted on the Breton coast, this work is one of many serial depictions of gently breaking waves Harrison produced, a concept probably derived from the French Impressionists. Although Harrison was acclaimed for his skill as a 'plein-air' painter, it is thought that this work was painted from memory after a series of quick sketches.The work was exhibited to great acclaim in Paris at the 1885 Salon and the 1889 Universal Exposition. Since its purchase "The Wave" has been one of the most popular paintings in the Pennsylvania Academy collection.