With the patronage of Gaston Lévy, Paul Signac traveled to one-hundred French ports between 1929 and 1931 and depicted them in a series of watercolor paintings entitled Ports of France. In 1932, having completed this series, he stopped spending his summers at Lézardrieux in Brittany, and bought a house in Barfleur, a small fishing port on the Cotentin peninsula. In these austere surroundings, Signac appreciated the simple company of the fishermen and the sights of the rocky, wind-buffeted coast of the Norman cape. From the windows of his house behind the church, opening on the port to the east and on the Gatteville lighthouse to the west, he observed and drew the local life, focusing particularly on the comings and goings of the boats.
While he was there, Signac not only produced a vast quantity of individual watercolors, but also drew preparatory sketches for oil paintings. This India ink wash, a study for the eponymous painting Barfleur (1931, private collection), shows a perspective encompassing a view of the port in the foreground, the Saint-Nicolas church, cemetery, customs office, and, at the end of the wharf, a cross—a reminder of the importance of religion in the fishing community. Under the wash, the grid reveals the method adopted by Signac from 1907, used to transfer his large preparatory drawings onto the canvas he was painting on.