“When I put down a green, it doesn’t mean grass; and when I put down a blue, it doesn’t mean the sky.”HENRI MATISSE
Matisse painted Pont de Seine in 1897 when he was 28 years old and still training at École des Beaux Arts in Paris with the Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau. At the time, he shared a studio overlooking the Seine on the Quai Saint Michel with fellow student Albert Marquet, and the river and its historic bridges were favored motifs for both young artists. Pont de Seine appears to be a view of Pont Marie, seen from the Quai de Bourbon on the Île Saint Louis.
In 1897, Matisse was sharing his life with the model Caroline Joblau, with whom he had a daughter, Marguerite, who was born in 1894. The artist never married Caroline, whom everyone called Camille, but was a loving father to his young child. In the summers of 1895 and 1896, Camille and Marguerite accompanied Matisse to Belle-Île-en-Mer, an island off the coast of Brittany, where they were guests of the Australian painter John Russell, who maintained a grand house there. Russell, who had been acquainted to Claude Monet, introduced the young Matisse to Impressionism. Russell had also been a friend of Vincent Van Gogh and presented Matisse one of his drawings as a gift. Russell’s Italian wife Marianna had frequently modeled for Auguste Rodin in the past. Matisse tremendously enjoyed the couple’s inspiring company and returned to Belle Île in the summer of 1897 for the third time. Russell’s encouragement, as well as the sundrenched island scenery with a large horizon and crystal clear waters had considerable influence on Matisse’s artistic development. After this vacation, he abandoned his academic style and muted palette and embraced a new spectrum of pure, luminous colours.
The summer of 1897, however, was also overshadowed by Matisse’s and Camille’s estrangement, as the young woman had difficulties getting accustomed to Matisse’s Bohemian lifestyle and poverty. When Matisse attended a wedding in October 1897, and was seated next to Amélie Noellie Parayre, he felt an instant connection with the young woman and decided to marry her a year later. The couple adopted Marguerite and raised her together.
Following the recommendation of Camille Pissarro, Matisse and Amélie spent their honeymoon in London, where he studied the works of J. M. W. Turner, and travelled on to Corsica, where Amélie had family. Upon his return to Paris in February 1899, Matisse completely revolutionized his artistic approach. While a new century was dawning, he, his friend Albert Marquet and a new acquaintance, called André Derain, were ready to start a new chapter in art history: Fauvism.
Pont de Seine represents Matisse’s liberation from his early Realist and Impressionist influences towards his own personal style. The architecture in the picture is broken down into nearly flat, abstract shapes, and the bold colour scheme and audacious brushwork announce the advent of Matisse’s Fauve years. The work can be seen as an indicator of the radical direction Matisse’s art would take over the next decade.