We are very grateful to Jonathan Benington for his assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.
The subject of this picture is the harbour at Cassis, flanked by the encircling mountains. O'Conor spent much of the year 1913 staying in the Mediterranean port - which was still quiet and unspoilt at that time - and painting the surrounding coast, cliffs, orchards, villas and other subjects. It was one of the most productive episodes in his career, and would turn out to be his last landscape-painting excursion for 20 years. He was bowled over by the explosion of light and colour under the brighter southern sun, just as the Fauves had been before him. As a result, his palette brightened considerably and he applied the oil paint sparingly in semi-transparent stains and washes, allowing the canvas priming to shine through the paint layer to lend added luminosity to his pictures. The range of colours used in The bay was based on the three primaries - French ultramarine blue, red lead and red lake, and chrome yellow; for the white highlights he used lead white (a rather old fashioned choice for the time), and viridian for the small amounts of green.
Other artists who visited the port in 1913 included Henri Manguin, Albert Marquet, and the Scottish Colourists, John Duncan Fergusson and Samuel John Peploe. The latter's view of the port (see Christie's Edinburgh, 26 April 1990, lot 669) honed in on the rhomboidal shapes of the harbour buildings and the bustle and activity of the boats. O'Conor, by contrast, chose to emphasise the overcast weather conditions and the majesty of the landscape setting, with the bay embraced by the series of peaks culminating in Le Cap Canail.