Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Imbued with powerful force of colour, Le Pont Saint Michel Paris is an exciting landscape pastel executed circa 1905 that bears testimony to Matisse's development into one of the masters of modern art. Through his deft handling of the pastels, Matisse has built up the landscape in a schematic yet natural way that prefigures some of his major paintings of interiors and exteriors. The deliberate contrast between the colours, and the tonal uniformity of some of the fields, hints at Matisse's later revolutionary flattening of the picture plane. The precise dating of the present work remains elusive. Although it was included in the 1906 Galerie Druet show of recent works, its bright palette and more conventional draughtsmanship could perhaps suggest a dating following the so-called 'dark period' that concluded at the end of 1903 but preceeding the Divisionist style that asserted itself following his summer visit to Cross and Signac in 1904.
Matisse had already proved himself an innovative, avant-garde artist, but had then experienced the so-called 'dark years', where he was often poor and sometimes ill. This is seen to have had a detrimental effect on his art, and during that brief period he made few of the inspired inventions, discoveries and decisions that make his work so exciting and important. However, in 1904 evinces a renewed sureness in his art. During this period he once again explored Neo-Impressionism, but transformed it into something new, preparing a way for Fauvism. The present work dates from this cusp, when Matisse was shifting from the colour theories of the Neo-Impressionists towards his more liberated pre-Fauve depictions. The divisionism of his earlier works is absent, yet the forms of the landscape are still defined and constructed through a use of intense and contrasting colour planes that tells of the restraint and calculation of the Neo-Impressionists, with their grounding in colour theory.
The views up and down the Seine from Matisse's apartment at 19 quai Saint-Michel proved to be one of the most significant arenas in which he experimented with his art. He developed new means of portraying landscape through his bird's-eye view up the river to Notre Dame and down the river to the Pont Saint Michel. These pictures chart his progress from before and through his Neo-Impressionism to his Fauvism. Matisse claimed that it was a view of the sunset that caused his expulsion from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1899, and thus must have been a similar westward view to Vue de Paris, le Pont Saint Michel. In reality his departure from the Ecole was for more mundane reasons: he left because he had reached the age limit of thirty and in fact his teacher Cormon told Matisse that he was welcome to return and use the facilities on an informal basis.
The first owner of this picture was Matisse's early friend and admirer, the anarchist and critic Mécislas Goldberg. Having been twice deported by the French for his political subversion, Goldberg pledged to avoid such acts and instead devoted himself to art and aesthetics. Through his friend Antoine Bourdelle, he met Matisse who was studying under his tutelage. Goldberg was considered to be the first person to truly understand Matisse's artistic intentions, and indeed the artist's first full statement of intentions and thoughts on art was published in the last edition of the Cahiers de Mécislas Goldberg, which was entirely devoted to his art.