A hymn to the South of France which Paul Signac so loved and where he made his home, La Baie (Saint-Tropez), painted in the heady days of the Fauve movement in 1907, captures the electric evening light caressing the trees and illuminating the landscape in the distance. It was in 1892, the year following the death of Georges Seurat, Signac’s friend and fellow pioneer of Neo-Impressionism, that Signac first ventured to Saint-Tropez. Signac was already familiar with parts of the South of France, having embarked upon previous painting expeditions to places such as Cassis and Collioure. Saint-Tropez, however, became a key base for the artist; in 1897, he would purchase a property there, “La Hune,” and add a forty-five-foot-long studio situated above the sea. From that point onward, he divided his time increasingly between Paris and the South.
The passing of Seurat had a gradual effect upon Signac's own works as he became the main spokesperson for their manner of painting, as some of the older disciples drifted away and other new recruits appeared. The painstakingly precise brushwork which Signac had employed during Seurat's lifetime, which seemed almost scientific and was based on juxtapositions of color informed by theories regarding visual perception, now gave way to increasingly large, thick dabs of color, as is the case in La Baie (Saint-Tropez).
Perhaps the signal catalyst to Signac's development after 1900 was his acquaintance with the newly emergent Fauves and particularly with Matisse, whom he met in the winter of 1903-1904 and to whom he subsequently extended an invitation to his villa in Saint-Tropez. "The azure light floods in from the vast bay," wrote Signac's friend and pupil Lucie Cousturier, "abolishing the materiality, the volume of objects, reducing them to subtly differentiated patches against the great pale walls. Signac places his canvas, so to speak, on the sky to paint his colours, and as he works, he conducts a continuous dialogue with space" (quoted in H. Spurling, The Unknown Matisse, New York, 1998, p. 283). It was into this environment that Signac welcomed Matisse during the summer of 1904, and courted him as a potential convert to the Neo-Impressionist cause.
The trees in La Baie (Saint-Tropez) with their thin trunks and full tops display a compositional technique that Signac used in a number of pictures, often making use of verticals such as masts, sails and the pine trees of the South of France to add a dark, curtain-like frame to his landscapes. Signac employed his unique divisionist manner, using the larger, block-like strokes of pure and tinted colors that he favored after the turn of the century, which may be likened to the tesserae in a mosaic, such as those in the medieval Byzantine manner the artist had admired during his travels in Italy. The larger stroke animates the essentially flat, zoned spaces in Signac’s compositions, while also serving to construct, as if with colored bricks and mortar, the forms within them. Matisse, Derain, Delaunay, Picabia and others worked their way through a similar divisionist phase, a debt they owe to Signac and his colleague Henri-Edmond Cross. Employing this method became a rite of passage for any devotee of colorism in painting, empowering them to forge their own contributions to early 20th century modernism.