In 1860, Degas went for the first time to Ménil-Hubert in Normandy, to stay with his friend Paul Valpinçon. It was there that he painted his first racing scenes, and in a sketchbook, produced many drawings showing the nearby Lepin stud farm and the uneven landscape around the village of Exmes. From Ménil-Hubert, it was easy to take excursions to the Argentan plain, or towards Bagnoles-de-l'Orne and the Suisse Normande. He probably did this study of rocks around 1867, when he was working on one of his most famous paintings: Mlle Eugénie Fiocre in the ballet "La Source" (New York, The Brooklyn Museum). In fact, it is quite probable that Degas used his studies of rocks for the background of that painting.
Knowing how rarely Degas painted landscapes, and how few watercolours he produced, brings out the importance of what might seem to be merely a quick sketch. The boldness of the framing - these massive rocks, filling the whole sheet of paper, and the subtle use of watercolour, conveying the density of the stone as much as the changing effects of the vegetation, that partially covers it – have no other direct equivalent in his work. These characteristics are more typical of the almost abstract monotypes from the 1890s than the rare, and often more ordinary, landscapes of the 1860s.