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

Pommiers en fleurs--Louveciennes

Alfred Sisley (1839-1899)
Pommiers en fleurs--Louveciennes
signed and dated 'Sisley.73.' (lower right)
oil on canvas
20 x 28¾ in. (50.8 x 73 cm.)
Painted in 1873
Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Paris (by 1891).
Paul Durand-Ruel, Paris (by 1905).
Arthur Tooth & Sons, Ltd., London (acquired from the above, 19 October 1936).
Mrs. Watson-Hughes, London (acquired from the above, 20 October 1936).
Private collection (acquired from the above).
Acquired by the present owner, 2000.
E. Heilbut, "Die Impressionisten Austellung der Wiener Sezession" in Kunst und Künstler, Berlin, February-March 1903, p. 176 (illustrated).
G. Jedlicka, Sisley, Bern, 1949, no. 8 (illustrated; titled Frülingslandschaft).
F. Daulte, Alfred Sisley: Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Lausanne, 1959, no. 62 (illustrated; with incorrect provenance).
M.A. Stevens and A. Dumas, Alfred Sisley, poète de l'impressionnisme, exh. cat., Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris, 2002, p. 134.
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Tableaux de Monet, Pissarro, Renoir & Sisley, April 1899, no. 128.
London, Grafton Galleries, Pictures by Boudin, Cézanne, Degas, Manet, Monet, Morisot, Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley, January-February 1905, p. 27, no. 290.
Nottingham University Art Gallery, Alfred Sisley: Impressionist Landscapes, February 1971, no. 2 (illustrated, p. 14).

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Brooke Lampley
Brooke Lampley

Lot Essay

Pommiers en fleurs--Louveciennes depicts a gently sloping hillside on a sunny morning in early spring, the apple trees just beginning to burst into bloom and the ground dotted with new green growth. Sisley painted this tranquil scene on the outskirts of Louveciennes, a suburban enclave in the lush valley of the Seine where he lived from late 1871 until early 1875. The attractions of Louveciennes, both practical and aesthetic, were numerous. It was only seventeen kilometers from Paris, easily accessible by coach or train; Renoir and Pissarro were already settled there, and Monet was living nearby at Argenteuil; there was a picturesque network of streets, the Forest of Marly stood at the edge of town, and the river was just downhill at Bougival. The three years that Sisley spent at Louveciennes proved exceptionally fruitful and witnessed the emergence of the artist's mature Impressionist style. John Rewald has written, "Sisley's paintings now radiate assurance, an eagerness for discovery, and the enjoyment of a newly won freedom" (The History of Impressionism, New York, 1973, 4th rev. ed., p. 290).

The present canvas is part of a trio of landscapes that Sisley painted in the spring of 1873, which show small children walking or playing in the fertile fields outside Louveciennes (Daulte, nos. 62-64). On at least one occasion, Renoir accompanied Sisley into the countryside, setting up his easel alongside his friend and painting a very similar view (see ibid., p. 287). Whereas Sisley's paintings of Louveciennes itself frequently employ a plunging road to establish spatial recession, he experimented in the countryside with more subtle means of indicating depth, including rolling hills, furrowed fields, and lightly trodden, grassy paths. Here, the rows of trees receding into the distance and the gentle rise of the land from right to left generate a sense of space, while the open area in the foreground prepares the eye for the soaring expanse of cirrus-streaked sky that crowns the scene.

Although Sisley's principal interest in this peaceful, idyllic vista was to capture the pleasures of an early spring day, he has also incorporated subtle signs of the complexities that characterized the burgeoning Parisian suburbs. The woman and two children near the center of the scene, clad in elegant costume and enjoying a leisurely stroll, represent the region's increasing popularity as a country retreat for bourgeois families. At either side of the composition, by contrast, we can discern peasants at work in the orchard, their bent postures indicative of labor rather than leisure. Unlike Monet and Renoir, Sisley did not shy away from depicting the economic life of the Seine valley. His paintings of the river are filled not only with vacationers and pleasure craft, but also with markers of both traditional and modern forms of work, from fishermen spreading their nets to commercial barge operators dredging sand. The present painting translates this interest to an inland context, suggesting--in Sisley's characteristically subtle and unrhetorical way--the social dichotomies that had emerged as the railroad brought more and more Parisian vacationers to this once-rural enclave.

The painting also inscribes the memory of the Franco-Prussian War, which had hit Louveciennes particularly hard. During the winter of 1870-1871, more than three thousand Prussian troops had been billeted in the village. Houses were ruined and roads badly damaged, and countless trees were cut down along the route de Versailles and on neighboring farms and estates. In 1871, free handouts of seed to local landowners helped to jump-start reconstruction, and by 1873--though the scars of war were not yet entirely healed--Louveciennes was swiftly regaining its position as one of the leading market gardens for Paris. In the present scene, the mature trees on the left contrast with the newly planted saplings near the center, bearing witness to this process of reconstruction and rendering tangible proof of France's renewed vigor under the Third Republic.

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