Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Painted in the summer of 1897, during Matisse’s third trip to Brittany, Paysage de Bretagne demonstrates the young artist’s transformation from a student of Impressionism to the Fauve master of color. Matisse had first travelled to the island of Belle-Ile, off of the Brittany coast, in 1895 with his friend Emile-Auguste Wéry, a fellow artist. However, this had been an abortive trip, as Matisse had been astounded and shocked at Wéry's squeezing paint directly from the tube onto his palette. Unable to cope with the prospect of working side by side with such a rebel, Matisse left, touring other regions in the still-remote and relatively unspoiled Brittany. Remarking upon this first visit to the region, he said: “I had only bistres and earth colors on my palette…I began to work from nature. And soon I was seduced by the brilliance of pure color. I returned from my trip with a passion for rainbow colors” (quoted in P. Schneider, Matisse, London, 2002, p. 59).
In depicting the island and its environs, Matisse was inspired by the example of two other painters who had captured the ferocious energy of Belle-Ile, with the waves crashing against its giant, jagged cliffs: Claude Monet and John Peter Russell. Monet had painted Belle-Ile in 1886, and Matisse is known to have seen his works, not least at the 1897 exhibition of the Caillebotte Bequest. The Australian painter Russell lived in Belle-Ile, and Matisse stayed with and painted alongside him on these trips.
By the time of Matisse's final visit to the island in 1897, he was looking to fully cement his individual approach to the Impressionist style. He was ready to show one of his Belle-Ile landscapes to his teacher, Gustave Moreau, as he attempted to break with the Symbolist’s tenets and determine his own path towards the avant-garde. In Paysage de Bretagne Matisse employs an Impressionistic handling of the paint, a looseness that has been taken beyond even the example of Monet. This humble, rural landscape is bathed in dusk’s luminous pink light, electrifying the scene and demonstrating the artist’s imaginative and emotional connection to color, a connection which would soon evolve into the wild pigments of Fauvism.