The sea was a pivotal theme for Emil Nolde. He spent most of his life on the northern peninsula of Germany in Schleswig-Hollstein on the North Sea. The distinct character of this region became a hallmark of his art, which was dominated by a large number of saturated watercolors such as this one. Heavy Seas at Sunset combines the intense blue-green of the waves and the orange of the sunset with the untouched white surface of the paper. Only after the viewer acknowledges the raw force of nature and color does one notice the presence of a steamer on the horizon. As Nolde himself said: "If a breaker had washed me overboard and I had been forced to fight for my life in the water, would I have been able to paint the sea more powerfully?"