Manet summered at Gennevilliers in 1874, often spending time with Monet and Renoir across the Seine at Argenteuil, where Boating was painted. Beyond adopting the lighter touch and palette of his younger Impressionist colleagues, Manet exploits the broad planes of color and strong diagonals of Japanese prints to give inimitable form to this scene of outdoor leisure. Rodolphe Leenhoff, the artist’s brother-in-law, is thought to have posed for the sailor but the identity of the woman is uncertain.
Shown in the Salon of 1879, Boating was deemed "the last word in painting" by Mary Cassatt, who recommended the acquisition to the New York collectors Louisine and H.O. Havemeyer.