The composition features a mother and child sat out besides the shore, with the child perched over a rail looking out to sea. A few boats can be seen to the right hand side and another figure carries a parasol whilst walking along the beach. Several features of the hotel or restaurant come in from the right hand side, providing structure to the composition and also telling the viewer as to where these people are staying. It is likely that this painting captures a brief holiday, in a rented villa. At that time it was common to head to the sea from the cities for a period of relaxation, with foreign travel still some way off for most people at that time. Families would not often need to travel particularly far to find a suitable spot such as this and Morisot herself regularly captured harbour sides within her paintings and appeared to love being in these types of environments for a short break.

In a Villa at the Seaside came about in the summer of 1874, and this year marked an important moment in the artist's career. She had just exhibited with the Impressionists and had tied her mast to their ship, leaving behind the potentially easier life of continuing to exhibit instead at the Salon. She had already achieved respect there, but felt more comfortable with this avant-garde group that could inspire new ideas in her work. She was proven right as their exhibitions grew in popularity, with its biggest names becoming major figures within French art history over the next few years that followed. It is believed that the two figures in this scene are actually her sister, Edma, and her neice. It is another fine example of life for the middle classes in France at that time.

The Norton Simon Museum hosts a fine selection of art, with the main focus being European paintings from the Renaissance up to the present day. There is also a good amount of sculpture on show here, including several famous Rodin sculptures. Asia is also well presented, which fits closely with European art from the late 19th century which is known to have been heavily influenced by woodblock prints which had been imported from the Japanese empire. The collection originally was formed from a large amount of German Expressionist art, but quickly grew and spread across all manner of other periods and styles. It remains one of the best cultural attractions within California and works hard to do justice to its formidable collection of art.