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

Printemps à Veneux

Alfred Sisley (1839-1899)
Printemps à Veneux
signed 'Sisley.' (lower left)
oil on canvas
28¾ x 35¼ in. (72.9 x 90.7 cm.)
Painted in April 1880
Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Paris (acquired from the artist, by August 1891).
Paul Durand-Ruel, Paris (acquired from the above, 1901).
Private collection, Paris (by descent from the above, by 1959).
Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Paris (acquired from the above, 16 January 1962).
Sam Salz, Inc., New York (acquired from the above, 23 January 1962).
Stephen Richard and Audrey Currier (by 1967); Estate sale, Christie's, New York, 16 May 1984, lot 18.
Howard B. Keck, Los Angeles (acquired at the above sale); sale, Sotheby's, New York, 6 November 1991, lot 4.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
G. Geffroy, Sisley, Paris, 1923 (illustrated, pl. 8; titled Le Printemps).
G. Geffroy, Sisley, Paris, 1927 (illustrated, pl. 24).
J. Jedlicka, Sisley, Bern, 1949, p. 30, no. 22 (illustrated, pl. 22; titled Frühling).
V. Gilardoni, L'Impressionismo, Milan, 1951, p. 152, no. 43 (illustrated, pl. 43; titled Primavera and dated 1878).
F. Daulte, Alfred Sisley: Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Lausanne, 1959, no. 356 (illustrated; with incorrect provenance).
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Exposition de tableaux de Monet, Pissarro, Renoir & Sisley, April 1899, no. 134 (titled Le Printemps and dated 1878).
Paris, Chambre Syndicale de la Curiosité des Beaux-Arts, L'art français au service de la Science française: exposition d'oeuvres d'art des XVIIIè, XIXè et XXè siècles, April-May 1923, no. 224 (titled Printemps and dated 1878).
Paris, Musée des arts décoratifs, Cinquante ans de peinture française, 1875-1925, May-July 1925, no. 75 (titled Les pommiers en fleurs and dated 1882).
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Tableaux de Sisley, February-March 1930, no. 7 (titled Paysage and dated 1872).
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Exposition de tableaux par Alfred Sisley, January-February 1937, no. 29 (dated 1882).

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Brooke Lampley
Brooke Lampley

Lot Essay

During the first fifteen years of his career as a painter, Sisley lived and worked in a succession of towns west of Paris in the lush valley of the Seine, including Bougival, Louveciennes, Marly-le-Roi, and Sèvres. In January 1880, a time of dire financial straits for many of the Impressionists, Sisley left the Paris suburbs for the more rural region near the confluence of the Seine and Loing, about seventy-five kilometers southeast of the capital. He immediately made the area his own, tirelessly exploring the converging rivers, gently undulating terrain, and expansive sky until his death in 1899. "Sisley had found his country," the critic Gustave Geffroy later declared (quoted in Alfred Sisley, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1992, p. 183).

Upon his arrival in the region in 1880, Sisley settled at Veneux-Nadon on the left bank of the Seine, in a sizable house on the rue de By (fig. 1). His new home was just a few minutes' walk from the village center and, even more important, from the railroad station, offering easy access to Paris for the collection of artist's supplies and delivery of finished paintings. A nearby footbridge over the railroad tracks gave access to the riverbank, and the Forest of Fontainebleau was a short walk to the west. Richard Shone has written, "The situation was ideal for the variety of the immediate landscape--farmland and forest, rail, river and canal, cottage gardens on the one hand, overgrown copses on the other, the whole area teeming with chance viewpoints and constantly changing light" (Sisley, London, 1992, p. 128). In the fall of 1882, Sisley moved about three miles southeast, to the medieval town of Moret-sur-Loing; he stayed there, however, for only a year before relocating to the hamlet of Les Sablons, immediately adjacent to Veneux-Nadon. In 1889, Sisley returned to Moret, which would remain his home--and almost the exclusive subject of his art--until his death a decade later.

The present landscape was painted in April of 1880, just three months after Sisley settled at Veneux. It depicts fruit trees in bloom on a gentle slope of land adjoining a modest house, which is partially visible at the left edge of the canvas. Sisley had begun to explore his new surroundings immediately after his move, painting the rue de By under snow, and when springtime came, he started to range widely over the region, canvas and palette in hand. He produced panoramic views from a hillside to north, taking in a broad area of the site of future explorations. He then proceeded with more intimate, close-up scenes of the edge of the Forest of Fontainebleau and the adjoining fields, and he crossed the footbridge over the railroad tracks, painting the gardens and orchards of Veneux that lead toward the Seine. The present canvas was almost certainly painted in one of these two locations, although the exact site has not been identified. Once he reached the river, Sisley either walked upstream to paint the port of Saint-Mammès, nestled in the fork of land where the Loing runs into the Seine, or he turned in the opposite direction, exploring the wooded path and the steep slopes that line the Seine as it loops northward toward the villages of Thoméry and By. Shone has written:

"There is almost a sense of visual greed on Sisley's part as he turns this way and that, tasting the numerous possibilities on offer and testing his carefully acquired self-knowledge against opportunities of new light, space, configurations of land and sky, and a whole new range of effets and feelings. Only later did he sort out his discoveries methodically, in order to focus on those motifs that drew from him his most personal responses. He then began to work in a more concentrated way; by returning to the same spot, with slight changes in his viewpoint, he could take the measure of a place in canvas after canvas" (ibid., p. 128).

In Printemps à Veneux, Sisley's delight in his new surroundings is clearly evident. The graceful boughs of the large apple tree in the foreground are silhouetted against the bright blue sky, the white blossoms finding an echo in the cottony cumulus clouds. The striated patterns of green grass and brown earth that rise up the gentle slope lead the viewer into the scene at the bottom right, past the small figure in the middle distance; the spreading branches of the pommier then guide the eye across the canvas, toward the truncated farmhouse at the far left. Sisley thus calls attention to the signs of human presence in his idyllic rural scene, as though to emphasize his own enjoyment of the landscape. Shone has written about Sisley's paintings from this period, including a closely related orchard scene (fig. 2), "All have a vitality of handling and exuberance of subject and color that strike a new note in Sisley's work" (ibid., p. 134).

At some point in 1880, within months of Sisley's move to Veneux, the dealer Durand-Ruel received backing from Jules Feder, the head of the Union Générale bank in Paris, which enabled him to resume his support of the Impressionists after a hiatus of five years. Between 1880 and 1885, Durand-Ruel purchased as many as forty-five canvases directly from Sisley each year, as well as working tirelessly (though with mixed results) to promote the artist's work in France and abroad. Over the course of Sisley's entire career, this was the period of greatest financial stability, allowing him to explore his new surroundings in comparative freedom from commercial concerns. Durand-Ruel purchased Printemps à Veneux in April 1882, two years after it was painted, and featured the canvas in an important exhibition of Impressionist painting that he mounted at his gallery in Paris in April 1899, just three months after Sisley's death.

(fig. 1) The confluence of the Seine and Loing at Veneux-les-Sablons. BARCODE: 28855576

(fig. 2) Alfred Sisley, Un verger au printemps--By, 1881. Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam. BARCODE: 28855583

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