This moody view of Paris depicts what appears to be the Pont Saint-Michel just outside Matisse's studio at 19 quai Saint-Michel in Paris. He worked there from 1895-1907 and again in 1913, occupying four different studios and apartments in the building at various times, alongside friend and fellow artist Albert Marquet. The artist painted the bridge frequently, often from his studio window. Alfred H. Barr describes the stunning views from Matisse's apartment: "From the window of his apartment of the Quai St. Michel, Matisse could look east along the Seine to the Cathedral of Notre Dame on the opposite bank; and to the west, he could see the busy Pont St. Michel and beyond it the Palais de Justice on the Ile de la Cité with the pavilions of the Louvre in the distance. He painted these two vistas many times in the five years between 1899 and 1904" (Alfred H. Barr, Matisse, His Art and His Public
, New York, 1966, p. 69).
The series of paintings depicting the Pont Saint-Michel, from varying angles and heights, at different times of the day, reflects the gradual shift in Matisse's interests and the development of his personal style, as well as more mundanely, the different floors of his studio in the building over the years. The habit of painting in pairs or series would stay with him throughout his career, allowing him to compare compositions, color modulations, the texture and density of paint application thus enabling his unending meditation on the essence of form.
Painted early on in his career, this oil on panel reveals the artist's experiments with Impressionism and his evolution towards Fauvism. He chooses to depict the bridge from the west side and focuses particularly on the structure's simple geometry, eschewing the vibrant and lively city beyond. His palette is deliberately paired down to further emphasize the stark composition, with a flare of fiery orange woven into the center of the horizon. The influence of the Impressionists is evident in both the loosely applied paint but also in the choice of subject matter: light or the near-absence of it.
Pont Saint-Michel was named after the nearby chapel of Saint-Michel and links the Place-Saint-Michel on the left bank of the Seine to the Île de la Cité. Originally constructed in 1378, the medieval bridge was rebuilt several times, most recently in 1857.
Other versions by Matisse from this series reside in the permanent collections of institutions such as the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., and Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.