Paul Signac, an enthusiastic sailor, often painted seaside and port scenes, here St Tropez which he had discovered three years before on board his yacht Olympia. It was then a small fishing port soon to be frequented by many painters – Cross, Matisse, Derain, Marquet – before becoming a fashionable tourist resort.
The blue water fills much of the painting, but is hemmed in by the reflections of the orange house fronts. The orange-red buoy in the foreground catches the eye, contrasting strongly with the pale blue water of the port because it is a complementary colour and much darker in tone.
With Neo-Impressionism, a scientific form of Impressionism, it was no longer a matter of catching spontaneous first impressions. Signac did not paint directly from the motif but worked in his studio from studies made from nature. In The Red Buoy, the technique is still Divisionist but has moved away from strict Neo-Impressionism.
Thadée Natanson, the editor of La Revue Blanche, said of Signac: "The acuity of his luminous, vibrant colours, and the ingenuity of his composition which so marvellously fills a painting, are truly admirable; he breathes serenity".