Born in Provence, Cézanne remained deeply attached to his native region, and found inspiration there for some of his recurrent and emblematic motifs. The two most important were the Mont Sainte-Victoire and the Bay at L'Estaque, a place the artist had known since his childhood. It was there he painted his first seascapes in 1876 and, in the late 1870s, produced watercolours and paintings with viewpoints looking down over the bay, as in this example.
In a letter to Pissarro in 1876, Cézanne describes the panoramic landscape before him, and speaks of the "terrifying sun" which transforms "objects" into "silhouettes". In his paintings he interprets this absence of modelling by painting the vegetation and rocks using a technique of short brushstrokes juxtaposed to create a visible structure. The walls, houses and the factory chimney in the foreground, all manmade constructions, are outlined with a dark line to accentuate their geometrical shapes. This simplification of elements into cubes, cylinders and cones would later become increasingly prominent in the painter's work.
From the early 1870s, under Pissarro's influence, Cézanne lightened his palette. But it is clear that from this point that he was moving away from Impressionism, mainly by abandoning traditional perspective, and creating a synthesis between the different planes. The composition is divided into four very distinct areas: the shoreline - the heaviest and most thickly painted part -, the smooth surface of the water, the mountain range and then the thin strip of sky. All the lines converge towards a point outside the frame on the left where the bay narrows. The truncated view of the motif arbitrarily cropped by the framing of the painting is typical of Cézanne's work.
The Bay of Marseille seen from L'Estaque was the first of Cézanne's work to enter the French national collections thanks to a bequest by Gustave Caillebotte in 1894. The painting disconcerted visitors to the Musée du Luxembourg, at the time a museum for living artists, but it fascinated painters. At the beginning of the century, Fauves and Cubist painters (Braque, Dufy, Derain), would also set up their easels on the shores at L'Estaque.