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Alfred Sisley (1839-1899)
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Alfred Sisley (1839-1899)

Bords de Seine à Port-Marly

Alfred Sisley (1839-1899)
Bords de Seine à Port-Marly
signed and dated twice 'Sisley.75' (lower right)
oil on canvas
21½ x 25 5/8 in. (54.6 x 65.1 cm.)
Painted in 1875
Count Armand Doria (acquired from the artist).
Comtesse René de Lussac.
Anon. sale, Paris Galliéra, 16 June 1969, lot 116.
Acquavella Galleries, Inc., New York (acquired at the above sale).
Mr. and Mrs. Neison Harris, Chicago (acquired from the above, 26 November 1969).
By descent from the above to the present owner.
M.A. Stevens, ed., Alfred Sisley, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1992, p. 154 (illustrated, fig. 95).
The Art Institute of Chicago, A Day in the Country: Impressionism and the French Landscape, June 1984-April 1985, pp. 102 and 104, no. 24 (illustrated in color, p. 105).
Washington, D.C., Phillips Collection, Impressionists on the Seine: A Celebration of Renoir's "Luncheon of the Boating Party", September 1996-February 1997, pp. 74 and 260 (illustrated in color, pl. 37).
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Lot Essay

In the first weeks of 1875, Sisley moved from Louveciennes to nearby Marly-le-Roi, settling at 2, Avenue de l'Abreuvoir. Less than twenty kilometers west of Paris in the lush valley of the Seine, the towns of Marly, Louveciennes, and Bougival had long attracted artists with their varied landscape and grand eighteenth-century châteaux. In the 1830s, Madame Vigée Lebrun described being seduced "by this spacious view that unfolds, as the eye follows the long course of the Seine, by the splendid woods at Marly and the delightful orchards, so well tended you could believe yourself in the Promised Land" (quoted in R. Shone, Sisley, London, 1992, p. 54). By Sisley's day, the region had also become a popular spot for boating, swimming, and other leisure activities, drawing burgeoning crowds of vacationers from Paris each summer. The paintings that Sisley executed at Marly between 1875 and 1877 are widely considered some of the most beautiful of the artist's career. Richard Shone calls this "the period of some of his greatest landscapes" and likens Sisley's work from this time to such Impressionist masterpieces as Monet's Gare Saint-Lazare series, Pissarro's paintings of Pontoise, and Renoir's Au Moulin de la Galette (ibid., p. 85). Christopher Lloyd has identifed the Marly paintings as "some of the finest pictures in Sisley's oeuvre"--indeed, "among the best-known images in the canon of Impressionist art" (in M.A. Stevens, op. cit., p. 149).

Bords de Seine à Port-Marly depicts a group of farmhouses on the Ile de la Loge, a narrow island that runs down the center of the Seine between Marly and Bougival. At the time, the island was linked to the riverbank only by a ferry borne on a cable suspended between two stanchions, one of which is visible near the center of the present composition. Sisley had depicted the Ile de la Loge from almost the identical vantage point in December 1872, while he was living at Louveciennes (fig. 1). The earlier picture, however, was painted while the Seine was in flood and shows the island partially submerged. To paint the present canvas, Sisley positioned himself on the riverbank at Marly, looking directly across the Seine toward the Ile de la Loge. Richard Brettell has written, "The viewer seems almost to be floating, and the painting can be interpreted as a stable view perceived from a watery vantage point. This composition calls to mind the opening pages of Flaubert's L'Education sentimentale, in which the young hero pursues the alluring Mme Arnoux on a boat to Paris, observing all the while the inaccessible beauties of the traditional landscape" (exh. cat., op. cit., Los Angeles, 1984, pp. 102-104). In 1875, the year that the present canvas was painted, Sisley made at least five additional pictures from roughly the same spot on the Marly quay. In all of these, however, he directed his attention down the river, rendering it as a spacious highway of water with the Ile de la Loge on the right (fig. 2; Daulte, nos. 159-160, 176-178). Pissarro had explored the same site in a picture from 1872, focusing on a floating wash-house in the foreground and a small factory with a prominent smokestack near the center of the composition (fig. 3).

The figure standing in a small skiff in the present picture is in the process of dredging sand from the bottom of the Seine to provide a clear channel for commercial barge traffic traveling between Le Havre and Paris. Sand can be seen piled up in the left end of the diminutive craft. Sisley depicted the same activity in three other canvases from 1875, one of which shows sand heaped on the riverbank, awaiting sale to building contractors and gardeners (fig. 2; D. 176-178). The poles in the foreground of this picture were used to moor the boats as they arrived from the dredging area. Poles could also be used to steady the boats in the middle of the river, as seen in the present composition. Sisley's emphasis in this group of paintings on the economic aspect of the Seine is not unusual for the artist. Brettell has commented, "More than any other Impressionist, Sisley was fascinated by the complexity of river life. Less interested in pleasure craft and their passengers than his friend Monet, Sisley preferred to render the economically important boat life of the Seine--from ferries to flat barges and motor tugs" (ibid., p. 102). Interestingly, the skiff in Bords de la Seine à Port-Marly is not markedly different from the rowboats being rented for pleasure in Monet's Les bains de la Grenouillère (fig. 4), suggesting that such crafts may have had varying seasonal uses.

The first owner of Bords de la Seine à Port-Marly was Count Armand Doria, an important early collector of Impressionist painting. A scholar and wealthy landowner, Count Doria resided in a castle at Orrouy in northern France, near the village of Crépy-en-Valois. He began collecting art in 1856, focusing on the work of Corot, Jongkind, and Millet. In 1874, he made his earliest purchase of an Impressionist painting, La maison du pendu by Cézanne (Rewald, no. 202; Musée d'Orsay, Paris). It was the first canvas that Cézanne had ever sold to a person whom he did not know. Count Doria went on to acquire works by all the major Impressionist painters, including Manet, Monet, Sisley, Pissarro, Degas, Morisot, and Guillaumin. He had a reputation for studio-crawling, as well as for offering hospitality at his apartment in Paris and his castle at Orrouy, and many of the works in his collection were probably acquired directly from the artists. He died in 1896, having amassed an enormous collection of almost seven hundred items, including at least forty Impressionist pictures. These were sold in a four-day auction at the Galerie Georges Petit in Paris in May of 1899. The sale was an enormous success, with receipts totaling around a million francs. There was widespread amazement when Monet won the bidding at 6750 francs for a snowscape by Cézanne, the highest price ever paid for a work by the artist (R. 413; The Museum of Modern Art, New York). The bid caused so much excitement that the public, suspecting a maneuver, clamored for the buyer's name, whereupon the purchaser rose and declared, "It's me, Claude Monet!" (quoted in J. Rewald, The Paintings of Paul Cézanne: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1996, vol. I, p. 274).

An unusual detail of Bords de la Seine à Port-Marly is the fact that it was signed and dated twice by Sisley. When the artist finished the painting, he signed it in the lower right corner, at the very edge of the canvas. Afterwards, Count Doria purchased the picture and most likely placed it in a smaller frame, probably to pair with another canvas of slightly lesser dimensions. Presumably at Count Doria's request, Sisley then re-signed the painting higher on the canvas so that the signature and date would be visible in the new frame.

(fig. 1) Alfred Sisley, Le bac de l'Ile de la Loge, inundation, 1872. Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen. BARCODE 23659315

(fig. 2) Alfred Sisley, La Seine à Port-Marly, tas de sable, 1875. The Art Institute of Chicago. BARCODE 23659322

(fig. 3) Camille Pissarro, Le lavoir, Bougival, 1872. Musée d'Orsay, Paris. BARCODE 23659339

(fig. 4) Claude Monet, Les bains de la Grenouillère, 1869. National Gallery, London. BARCODE 23659346

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