Braque was raised in the Normandy port town of Le Havre, where he first studied art. His early work was characterized by a conservative impressionist manner derived from artists such as Eugène Boudin and Johan Barthold Jongkind. While the lessons of postimpressionism eluded him at first, he emerged as a modernist painter following his revelatory experience of fauvism at the Salon d'automne in 1905. Braque's own fauve period was a short one, occupying less than two years between 1906 and 1907. He was especially close to the painter Othon Friesz, a fellow Norman with whom he made four sojourns: to the Belgian city of Antwerp in the summer of 1906; to L'Estaque, in the south of France, in the fall; to the southern town of La Ciotat during the late spring of 1907; and back to L'Estaque in October. All four trips represent important painting campaigns during which Braque assimilated elements of fauvist style, ultimately converting them into the dense, constructive Cézannesque manner that preceded cubism.
The Port of La Ciotat, dating from spring 1907, typifies Braque's work in the south of France, where the golden tonality that distinguished his palette throughout this period had already been heightened by his exposure to the southern light of L'Estaque. In the Midi, Braque also developed an increasingly abstract technique, allowing strokes and contours to gain an autonomous presence. The result was a flat, decorative quality that Braque shared with Friesz (although Friesz' sinuous brushwork is more closely related to the graphic mannerisms of art nouveau). While The Port manifests these elements, it is somewhat more naturalistic than Braque's more radical work from mid-1907. Open areas of ground and sky relieve the denser passages, coherently evoking deep space, and the distribution of lights and darks lends plasticity to the boats in the foreground. True to the innovations of fauve painting, however, colors are almost uniformly nondescriptive. The Port also contains certain ambiguities of the kind that Braque would continue to pursue in his cubist works—areas of indeterminate space, for example, and the highly cryptic representation of distant objects (here, boats in the water) with one or two thick strokes of the brush. Extended observation reveals a latent structural element: across the top and bottom of the scene, three sets of masts function as broken vertical lines, dividing the composition into four bands.
The subject of The Port is a common one. Both Braque and Friesz painted many such harbor scenes in L'Estaque and La Ciotat. La Ciotat was a shipbuilding town, and its small harbor was dominated by a large dry dock facility that appears in the background of the present picture, where two steamers are shown. 
Braque began exhibiting his fauve canvases, including five works produced during his trip to the Midi, at the Salon des indépendants in the spring of 1907. By the time of his return to L'Estaque that fall, Braque, whose interest had been piqued by the posthumous retrospective of Cézanne's work at the Salon d'automne, was exploring the implications of a structural relief style that would gradually but dramatically distance him from the patterned colorism of fauve painting.
(Text by Jeffrey Weiss, published in the National Gallery of Art exhibition catalogue, Art for the Nation, 2000)
1. Alvin Martin and Judi Freeman, "The Distant Cousins in Normandy: Braque, Dufy, and Friesz," in Judi Freeman, ed., The Fauve Landscape [exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art] (Los Angeles, 1990), 235.