Henri Matisse



Not on display

Henri Matisse 1869–1954
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 460 × 375 mm
frame: 689 × 608 × 81 mm
Purchased 1949

Display caption

Matisse painted numerous views of Notre-Dame, which he could see from his studio window in Paris. The cathedral glows in the sunlight, and a glancing shadow indicates that it is midday. By contrast, the river beneath is dark and richly coloured. A plume of smoke from the riverboats rises in front of the cathedral, linking the industrial and spiritual aspects of the city. This atmospheric detail echoes Impressionism. However, the painting's touches of strong, sometimes seemingly arbitrary colour, anticipate Matisse's later Fauvist work.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Henri Matisse 1869-1954

N05905 Notre-Dame c.1900

Inscribed 'Matisse' b.r.
Oil on canvas, 18 1/8 x 14 3/4 (46 x 37.5)
Purchased from Alfred Klein through the Galerie Rousso, Paris (Courtauld Fund) 1949
Prov: Alfred Klein, Paris and Le Cannet (purchased from the artist?)
Exh: Matisse 1869-1954, Hayward Gallery, London, July-September 1968 (14, repr.)
Lit: Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Matisse: his Art and his Public (New York 1951), pp.51, 69; Douglas Cooper, 'Catalogue of the Courtauld Collection' in Burlington Magazine, XCVI, 1954, p.121; Gaston Diehl, Henri Matisse (Paris 1954), p.133; John Jacobus, Henri Matisse (London 1973), p.96, repr. p.97 in colour
Repr: The Listener, XLIV, 1950, p.583; Vlastimil Fiala, Henri Matisse (Bratislava 1967), pl.5 in colour

On being shown a photograph of this picture in 1950, Matisse said that it was painted in 1900 from the window of his apartment at the Quai St Michel in Paris.

While he was living at 19 Quai St Michel from 1899 to 1907 he painted at least twelve oils of more or less this view (information from Mme Marguerite G. Duthuit), as well as several others looking left towards the Pont St Michel and the Palais de Justice. These early pictures of Notre-Dame are all fairly small (up to a maximum of 73 x 60cm) and are sometimes upright, sometimes landscape-shaped. As none is dated, it is difficult to date them precisely and place them in sequence, but it seems likely on style that they were all executed between 1899 and 1902, or at the latest 1904. The two earliest would appear to be 'Notre-Dame with a Tug-boat' (no.31 in the Matisse exhibition at the Grand Palais, Paris, in 1970) and 'Notre-Dame' (sold at Sotheby's on 4 December 1968, lot 62 repr.), both of which are still Impressionistic and pre-Fauve in treatment, with silvery greys and blues. The Tate's picture, with its much stronger, more arbitrary colours, is clearly later and could well have been painted in 1900. The painting most similar to it is a slightly smaller (40 x 33cm) and sketchier composition at present in the Mr and Mrs Alex M. Lewyt collection, New York, which has a predominance of pink and green. As most of these pictures differ widely in style, size and composition, it seems unlikely that Matisse thought of them as a series.

In 1913 he again leased rooms at 19 Quai St Michel, which he kept as a pied-à-terre in Paris until after World War I, and in 1914 he painted two further, much larger pictures of this same view, each measuring 145 x 98cm. One of these, presumably the first (no.125 in the Grand Palais exhibition), is still quite straightforward and representational in treatment, but the other (now in the Museum of Modern Art, New York) is highly simplified and almost abstract, so that the whole character of the motif is mysteriously transformed.

Although the Gallery was told by the Galerie Rousso in 1950, when this picture was acquired, that the previous owner Alfred Klein had bought it direct from the artist, M. Klein was unable to confirm this when asked in 1970. He could not remember for certain where he had bought it, but thought it was more likely to have been from an auction about 1930.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, p.492, reproduced p.492

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