When you have achieved what you want in a certain area, when you have exploited the possibilities that lie in one direction, you must, when the time comes, change course, search for something new.
—Matisse, interview with Ragnar Hoppe, June 1919
Around the time that Matisse resumed Bathers by a River, he also began work on several still lifes and interiors. After visiting Matisse’s studio in 1916, the Danish writer Axel Salto remembered these canvases as “supernatural interiors . . . stronger, more pure in style, and in touch with Cubist theories.” While this is true, the paintings also demonstrate in certain ways that the artist had begun to loosen his approach. Indeed, these works suggest that Matisse was slowly beginning to experiment with a new process while preserving the same formal concerns, paring down what he had previously painted not by scraping it away and removing it altogether, but rather by applying new paint to cover and reshape what lay below.
By the beginning of 1917, Matisse also put his efforts toward making the best of the difficult wartime environment, throwing banquets for returning heroes and attending war-related benefits. Cultural life in Paris continued to improve, and he found new collectors and sold works, especially his still-life paintings. The artist even began to augment his income by engaging in some dealing, which allowed him to purchase a landscape and a few figure paintings by Gustave Courbet, inspiring him to slowly reengage with a more naturalistic style of painting. Matisse also rediscovered his interest in other 19th-century artists such as Camille Corot, as well as his long-standing preoccupation with Cèzanne. Aided by the purchase of a small car that allowed him to visit the environs of Issy, he set out to learn from earlier French landscapists and recover qualities that his recent, highly formalized approach made impossible. In the Bois de Meudon, a wooded park near his home, Matisse made both small, loosely painted scenes and bold, simplified landscapes that present nature untouched by the war.