Tournant du Loing en Eté 1890; 60 x 81 cms; 23 3/8 x 31 7/8 ins
Sisley’s fascination with water. And his desire to fuse the timeless elements of water, land and sky into a quasi-abstract, mystical whole is nowhere more wonderfully demonstrated than in this major painting of a glorious, broad sweep of river dissolving into trees and sky, on a perfect summer’s day.
Sisley’s spirit seems to soar in this marvellously free and beautiful painting, as though his brush was moving in absolute harmony with the joyously uplifting Scherzo from Beethoven’s Septet:
It was this gay, singing phrase which captivated me, he told a friend, it called forth a response in me from the very beginning and I sing it continually, humming to myself as I work.
Le Couple - Environs de Louveciennes 1873 oil 15 x 22 ins
Approximately fifty paintings are recorded in the Daulte Sisley Catalogue Raisonne as being painted in 1873. Of these fourteen are in museums. And four appear to portray a winter's landscape not in snow.
Many of Sisley's paintings contain figures dotted about the landscape. But it is the landscape and its determining skies, which thrill him with their beauty and infinite variety of mood. So that often, his figures seem anonymous elements in the overall design. A token presence signifying, subconsciously perhaps, the transitoriness of human beings passing through nature.
This appears to be the only landscape in the Catalogue Raisonne, in which there is a couple, centrally placed. And around whom the whole mood and composition - and therefore meaning - of the painting revolve.
The closeness of the two figures. The grey shawl drawn about the woman. The spot of warmth upon her head. All evoke a touching, very possibly, unique portrait by the artist, of a couple returning home - their quiet unity and isolation accentuated by the blustery winter landscape. Is this for Sisley, a rare and oblique metaphor for life?
The particular magic and beauty of this tender picture, lie in its hint of human love which the artist has, with subtle mastery, set against the chill of a winter's afternoon, a last golden burst of sunlight. And the mysterious bluish haze arising from the earth.
Les Bords du Loing a Saint Mammes 1885 oil 15 ¼ x 22 ins
This painting will be included in the updated Daulte Sisley Catalogue Raisonné now being prepared by the Comité Alfred Sisley who have provided the following provenance:
Michael Astor, London 1947
James Astor, London
Beadleston Gallery, New York, 1981
Marshall Young Jr, San Francisco, 1989
Edward Tyler Naham
Private Collection, South America
The Museum of Fine Arts, Lyon, Alfred Sisley Retrospective, October 2002 January 2003.
Museo di Santa Giulia, Brescia, Monet, The Seine, The Waterlilies, October 2004 - March 2005.
This scene includes part of the boat yard at the confluence of the rivers Seine and Loing [which flows just behind the spot where this was painted]. The 1959 Daulte catalogue Raisonné reproduces seven 1885 paintings showing the same corner [Nos 571, 572, 577, 578, 579, 580, 581]. Whilst this relates most closely to 581, the repositioning of the figure enlivens the whole composition with its more prominent human presence.
The curve of the barge is like a deep, mellow, ponderous cello chord, contrasting with the paintings light swiftness of touch. And enriching its musical range.
Sisleys love of music imbues his work with an entirely personal sensitivity and lyricism. One piece he found especially inspiring was the trio from the Scherzo in Beethovens Septet.
It was this gay, singing phrase which captivated me, he told a friend. It called forth a response in me from the very beginning and I sing it continually, humming to myself as I work.
The Scherzos joyous spirit pulsates in absolute uncanny harmony with this painting. It is, quite literally, Sisleys signature tune in paint.
Sisley described his artistic beliefs to the collector and critic, Adolphe Tavernier:
To give life to the work of art is certainly one of the most necessary tasks of the true artist. Everything must serve this end: form, colour, surface. The artists impression is the life-giving factor.
Although the landscape painter must always be the master of his brush and his subject, the manner of painting must be capable of expressing the emotions of the artist. You see I am in favour of differing techniques within the same picture. This is not the general opinion at present, but I think I am right, especially when it is a question of light.
The sunlight in softening the outlines of one part of a scene will exalt others and these effects of light which seem nearly material in a landscape ought to be interpreted in a material way on canvas.
The sky is not simply a background: its planes give depth [for the sky has planes as well solid ground], and the shapes of the clouds give movement to a picture. What is more beautiful indeed than the summer sky, with its wispy clouds idly floating across the blue? What movement and grace! Dont you agree? They are like waves on the sea; one is uplifted and carried away. But there is another aspect the evening sky. Clouds grow thin, like furrowed fields, like eddies of water frozen in the air, and then they gradually fade away in the light of the setting sun. Solemnity and melancholy a sad moment of departure which I find especially moving.
1885 seems a notable year both for the number of paintings Sisley produced, and their distinctive gem-like brilliance of light and colour. Daulte records 53 paintings in 1884; 71 in 1885; and 18 in 1886. Yet there is little hint - and none in this painting - of Sisleys lack of recognition and increasing financial hardship.
17th November 1885
Dear Monsieur Durand-Ruel,
I have received the 200 francs. This will pay a bill which falls due on the 20th of this month and a few small debts. But afterwards? By the 21st, I shall again be without a sou. However I must give something to my butcher and my grocer; to one I have paid nothing for six months and to the other nothing for a year. I also need some money for myself at the start of the winter. There are certain things I must have, and I would like to think that I can depend upon a little calm in order to work.
I am completely in pieces. Tomorrow or afterwards I shall send you three canvases. It is the only work I have.
25th November 1885
Dear Monsieur Durand-Ruel,
You are better placed than I to know what will please the collectors. Therefore return to me the two canvases you think less saleable. I will replace them on my next trip. The situation here remains unchanged.
Your very devoted,
Brush strokes of perfectly pitched colour, contrasting harmoniously in texture and intensity, and deftly applied - as though breathed onto the canvas embrace, in a broad, gentle sweep, the entire composition. Indeed each single spot of paint appears to vibrate in harmony with the whole.
The particular atmosphere and magic of this painting are touchingly reflected in a later account by his friend, the writer Gustave Geffroy:
Sisley was already in delicate health when he invited me to make the easy journey to Moret. We were admirably entertained by Sisley, his wife and daughter in their home which was both bourgeois and rustic.
That marvellous day, perfect in its ambience of welcome and friendship, has for me remained marked by this premonition of an ageing artist who sensed that during his lifetime, no ray of glory would shine upon his art. This impression is reinforced by the fact that no one present on that day is now alive not even Mademoiselle Jeanne Sisley, then in the full bloom of youth and beauty. Yet everything was magnificent and harmonious. We spent the morning in the studio and after lunch everybody took charabancs to Moret, the banks of the Loing, and the forest of Fontainebleau where Sisley, acting as master of ceremonies, spoke with unforgettable charm.
I have never forgotten the splendour of the trees, the glades and rocks of which he spoke so poetically; nor indeed his account of the lives and troubles of the river folk whom he knew so well through his studious and reflective existence spent by the river banks and beneath the poplar trees.
Le Loing oil 20.75 x 28 ins
Aux Bords de la Seine oil 1885
here for the Introduction to the 1981 Sisley Exhibition arranged by Richard Nathanson.
This was adapted for his Sunday Times magazine article on Sisley.
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