Maximilian Luce, along with Seurat, Signac, Odilon Redon, and Henri-Edmond Cross, founded the Salon des Indépendants in 1884. Luce would have seen Seurat's development of divisionism and his important works Baignade à Asnières, 1883-84 (De Hauke no. 92, National Gallery, London), exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants of 1884, and La Grande Jatte, 1884-86 (De Hauke no. 162, Art Institute of Chicago), exhibited at the eighth and final Impressionist exhibition in 1886. Luce himself began to experiment with the divisionist technique, and his La Toilette (Bazetoux no. 562; Geneva, Petit Palais), painted in 1887, was shown at the Salon des Indépendants of that year and caught the attention of Pissarro, Signac, and the critic Félix Fénéon. As Luce adopted the divisionist brushstroke, his color tones became clearer and brighter, and his compositions became flatter, suggesting a familiarity with Japanese prints.
Born and raised in working-class Montparnasse, Luce favored urban scenes, unlike many of the Neo-Impressionists. His preferred subjects included manual workers, views of the rooftops, and the general bustle of the street, such as in La Seine au pont Saint-Michel. The obvious animation of the street contrasts with the serene townhouses depicted in the right middleground and the landscape and billowing clouds in the background. At first glance, the painting seems to highlight the elegant, refined side of Paris, in which the bourgeoisie promenade along the river. However, a closer look at the figures reveals their diversity. A woman holds a baby, a young boy plays while a man looks on, and an older lone gentleman stands closest to the viewer, at the lower right. The men at the lower right corner of La Seine au pont Saint-Michel seem decidedly working class; one faces the river, turning his back from the street and lowering his head despondently. This diversity concurs with Luce's own politics, as he was a staunch anarchist and a champion of the working class. Such class differences are also apparent, although not overtly obvious, in Seurat's famous figural works such as Baignade à Asnières and La Grande Jatte.
Beginning in 1899, Luce produced a series of paintings viewed from the Quai Saint-Michel, of which La Seine au pont Saint-Michel is one. These works represent the most ambitious and successful examples of his career. Philippe Cazeau writes, "Certain canvases from 1899 to 1900, for example La Seine au pont Saint-Michel, are a happy compromise between divisionism and this form of impressionism (P. Cazeau, op. cit., p. 108). The present work belongs to the Notre Dame series, begun the previous year. He likely conceived this series while working with Pissarro and Matisse at their studios on the quai. Towards the end of 1899, Luce wrote to his friend Edmond Cross, "I am working from the moment from a window on the quai Saint-Michel, Notre Dame, [and] and quai des Orfèvres and it is harshly beautiful. I am making piles of studies and will use them for larger canvases" (quoted in B. de Verneilh, in L'Oeil, March 1983, p. 24).