The villages of the Seine and its tributaries
Sisley went tirelessly in search of motifs along the Seine and its tributaries, he looked no further. He concentrated on views of village streets, or of interesting groups of buildings, he would be drawn to an old stone bridge, the kind of subject that had fascinated painters since Corot. In what many would dismiss as unprepossessing patches of gardens or meadows, landscapes on the outskirts of towns or along river banks, Sisley could often discover the most arresting colour or light effects.
In 1866, Sisley began a relationship with Eugenie Lesouezec and shortly thereafter the couple had two children: a son, Pierre, in 1867 and daughter, Jeanne in 1869. Although they remained together until Eugenie’s death in 1898, they didn’t marry until August 5, 1897. In 1870, the Franco-Prussian War began and this precipitated the failure of Sisley’s father’s silk business which ended in his father’s bankruptcy and the financial devastation hastened his death. Sisley had relied heavily on his father’s financial support because of the low prices being offered for his artwork, and this revenue stream had come to an end.
To manage his financial difficulties and to avoid the Prussian War, Sisley gave up his home in Paris and moved to the countryside and the town of Louveciennes, a village west of Paris. It is said that during the summer of 1871, Sisley, Renoir and Pissarro had watched Paris burn during the Prussian siege of the capital city. In his painting Louveciennes, above Marly, Sisley has depicted the view from Louveciennes, down over the forest and the riverside town of Marly.
Another of Sisley’s works featuring Louveciennes is his 1873 painting entitled Louveciennes: View of the Sèvres Road. It is a classic example of a perspective road which we see narrowing into the distance. He used this technique in many of his works as it allowed him to give movement to his depiction while also giving a feeling of space.
It is thought that Sisley’s depiction may have been influenced by Meindert Hobbema’s 1689 landscape painting, The Avenue at Middleharnis, which he would have seen at the National Gallery when he visited London.
Two years later, in October 1874, after his four-month summer holiday spent in London, Sisley and his family moved to 2 avenue de l’Abreuvoir in Marly-le-Roi, a commune in the Île-de-France region, in north-central France, located in the western suburbs of Paris, 18 kilometres from the centre of the French capital. The two following winters were especially harsh with temperatures below zero and frequent heavy snowfall. I particularly like Sisley’s 1876 painting entitled Place du Chenil at Marly, and the depiction of snow. There is an eerie stillness about the depiction of the town’s main square which since Sisley’s time has been renamed Place du Général-de-Gaulle. We see that a heavy snowfall has occurred and the town has been covered by a thick blanket of snow. Look at how Sisley has depicted the snow. It is not just coloured white but a subtle blending of blues, greens, creams and greys. There is nothing spectacular about the scene but it is just a timeless realistic rendition. Place du Chenil in Marly, Snow Effect is now located in Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen which is an art museum in Normandy, France. It was given to Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen by François Depeaux, a French art collector, industrialist and patron. He gave the painting to the museum in 1909, just over 100 years after the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen was built.
Commemorative postage stamp issued by Republic of Guinea on October 1st 2009 depicted Sisley’s painting Place du Chenil à Marly, effet de neige.
The Villeneuve-la-Garenne painting depicts the village on the River Seine, a commune in the northern suburbs of Paris, which lies less than ten kilometres from centre of the French capital. In 1872 Alfred Sisley created his painting depicting the small village entitled Village by the Seine (Villeneuve-La-Garenne). After visiting the small village, Sisley was inspired by what he saw and was determined to produce a work so that he could share the beauty of the place. The depiction oozes tranquillity. The two trees in the foreground act as if they were theatre curtains on either side of a stage. In this work Sisley has managed to encapsulate the beauty of nature.
Sisley completed a number of paintings featuring the village and just to the left of the previous painting, but out of view, is the bridge which crosses the river at Villeneuve-La-Garenne and this was the subject of Sisley’s 1872 painting, The Bridge at Villeneuve-la-Garenne. The cast-iron suspension bridge resting on stone abutments was built in 1844 to connect what had until then been a fishing village and small port with the Paris neighbourhood of Saint-Denis, on the other side of the river. The building of the bridge and the bridge itself was symbolic of French modernity, and the structure was depicted in a number of Sisley’s paintings of the 1870s and early 1880s. Sisley made the depiction somewhat livelier by including figures of holidaymakers on the riverbank and in a boat which is passing under the bridge. Look how Sisley’s brushstrokes communicate the fleeting effect of sunlight on the water.
About six miles up-river from Villeneuve-La-Garenne is the town of Suresnes, a commune in the western suburbs of Paris, Île-de-France. In 1877 Sisley completed his painting entitled The Seine at Suresnes. It is a typical work of Impressionism with its swirling clouds dominating his depiction of the sky. His intention was to capture a fast-changing scene due to the approaching storm. Look how he has depicted the river, no longer bathed in sunlight, now dimmed by the heavy clouds overhead. Unlike many of Sisley’s best loved works which focus on tranquillity, this is more about doom-laden skies and what was to come to pass. The painting was sold to fellow artist, Gustave Caillebotte, and along with Gustave’s other paintings he had amassed, it was later left to the French nation.
With the canals from Briare and Orléans completed respectively in the second half of the seventeenth century, merchants started complaining about the poor navigability of the river Loing. The Duc d’Orléans ordered a survey and designs for the navigational route which would be part river and part canal. The waterway was completed in 1723. The Loing Canal is used by working barges and was the subject of many Sisley’s depictions. In this painting we see a winding path, which follows the curve of the canal, alongside of which are poplar trees. Our eyes, once we have taken in the house, follow the curve of the road and canal into the distance. The inclusion of the winding road was one of Sisley’s favourite themes in which it plays a part in the perspective of the painting. This painting, The Loing Canal, was offered to the Musée du Luxembourg after the painter died in 1899. It was part of a gift from Sisley’s friends which was organised by Monet.
Seine et Marne is a department in the Île-de-France region of northern France named after the rivers Seine and Marne and is on the eastern edge of the Ile de France. It was to be Sisley’s countryside during the last twenty years of his life. In 1880 he had moved to Veneux-Nadon, close to Moret-sur-Loing. It was a “forced” move as Sisley had been evicted from his house in Sèvres for not paying his rent. As some of his work prior to 1880 depicted scenes of Veneux-Nadon, it is clear that he had visited the area on a number of occasions. This was an agriculturally rich and tranquil countryside with its woods and tiny hamlets. It was a perfect venue for Sisley’s landscape work and allowed him to relax away from the chaos of Paris. It worked for him as he produced many serene and beautiful paintings.
Sisley’s painting, The Meadow at Veneux-Nadon, depicts the slender poplars with their delicate leaves and it leads our gaze into the depth of the picture space and gives it stability in this wide summer landscape. Through a juxtaposition of shimmering fields of colour and a reduction of motifs, Alfred Sisley lends an iridescent vitality and tension to the seemingly monotonous theme. Sisley exhibited the painting at the Seventh Impressionist Exhibition in 1882, in which the group focused on landscapes.
In his work, Le Bois des Roches Veneux Nadon, we see a windswept scene of a forest at the water’s edge . To the left we see a small rowing boat struggling in choppy waters.
This painting, Snowy Weather at Veneux Nadon, was completed during his first winter in Veneux- Narbon on the Loing in 1880. It is another of his snowscapes which this time is dominated by dark clouds with just a glimmer of the rising sun in the background. This was one of Sisley’s favourite depictions, often populated by workers heading for the mills, which were the village people’s primary source of employment. It is an atmospheric depiction of a cold early-morning scene and Sisley has used muted colours to ensure the contrast with the presence of the rising sun.
Veneux, August Afternoon was painted by Alfred Sisley in 1881. Financially, it had not been a good year for him although he managed to afford to travel to the Isle of Wight in June. He had arranged for canvases to be sent to him on the island but they never arrived an he could not afford to pay for English canvases. When he arrived back in France in August he painted this work. It is a typical Sisley scene – quiet riverside setting with trees and picturesque sky. Our eyes are drawn to the creamy clouds in the upper left of the painting and then back down in a diagonal direction to the patch of sunlight we see falling on the pathway on the bottom right of the work.
The painting Sailing Boats by Sisley depicts a scene of the boatyards at the riverside town of Saint-Mammès, sixty kilometres south-southeast of the French capital, at a point where the rivers Seine and Loing come together. Sisley has depicted a number of pleasure boats tied up next to a barge fitted with lifting gear. Sisley has used a familiar technique with the layout of his work – the subject is viewed head-on and the depiction is a series of wide horizontal bands, which, in this painting, is held together by the tall triangular shape of the lifting equipment. The scene is populated by a number of figures.
Sisley’s favoured painting medium had always been oils but this late painting by him was a pastel. It is not known whether this pastel work was just a preliminary sketch that would later be used to complete the depiction in oils or whether Sisley was intrigued by the medium. Once again Sisley has used a winding path to give perspective to the depiction. The work is not simply a landscape but focuses on a girl looking after her flock of geese.
Alfred Sisley was born and spent most of his life in France, but retained British citizenship. In 1897, Sisley and his partner of over thirty years, Marie Eugénie Lescouezec, visited Britain and were finally married at the Cardiff Register Office on August 5th. On his return to France, in 1898, Sisley applied for French citizenship, but was refused. Later, a second application was made and on this occasion his application was supported by a police report, but Sisley became seriously ill and the process was halted. In October 1898 his wife died of cancer and four months later on January 29th 1899 Sisley died of throat cancer, aged 59. Sisley remained a British national until his death. He was buried with that of his wife at Moret-sur-Loing Cemetery.