The artist had a studio in Quai Saint-Michel which overlooked the incredible architecture of the Notre Dame cathedral. It was always going to be impossible for him to overlook this stunning creation and so it would appear in several different artworks. This was perhaps his most abstract of all, making it hard to decipher the scene when we first view the piece in person. It can today be found at MoMA, which itself possesses one of the finest collections of modern art in the world and within that a number of other Matisse paintings also remain. Other sources with which the artist was familiar would reveal that he made many amendments to this piece before finally arriving at this blue-heavy creation.
Research into the artist's lifetime within a number of different biographies have revealed that he, and his wife, had planned to visit Morocco earlier in 1914. This trip was cancelled, perhaps because of the unstable political situation within Europe, and so they chose to opt for a charming flat in Paris. They knew the area well and so were pleased to return, with Henri well acquainted with views of the cathedral, from pretty much every angle imaginable. His initial interpretations of this building were impressionist in style, approximately. As good as Matisse was, no-one could compare those to the quality of Monet's Rouen Cathedral, and he would find his calling in other styles in later years.
It still seems strange today that Matisse would reduce such a beautiful building to just a few abstract lines and colours. Perhaps he knew it so well by now that he was working from a position of his own familiarity, not feeling it necessary to explain every detail of the scene to the rest of us. Considering the early nature of this piece, it was the start of what was to come across European art in coming decades, as modern art styles would start to take over. Inspirations had come from Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, with Matisse collecting work from some of its finest exponents. Art and architecture have a strong relationship for many centuries, with different outputs coming from all across Europe, and Matisse would use his series of depictions of the Notre Dame Cathedral to provide his own take on this.