Alfred Sisley (1839-1899)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller
Alfred Sisley (1839-1899)

Les peupliers à Moret-sur-Loing, après midi d’août

Alfred Sisley (1839-1899)
Les peupliers à Moret-sur-Loing, après midi d’août
signed and dated ‘Sisley. 88’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
23 ¾ x 28 7/8 in. (60.2 x 73.2 cm.)
Painted in 1888
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Paris; sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 23 June 1900, lot 87.
Galerie Berhneim-Jeune et Cie., Paris (acquired at the above sale).
Orosdi collection, Paris.
Lucien Sauphar, Paris.
Roger Sauerbach, Paris; sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 11 March 1931, lot 30.
Ducrot Collection, Paris (possibly acquired at the above sale).
Gabriel Cognacq, Paris; sale, Galerie Charpentier, Paris, 14 May 1952, lot 59.
Private collection (by 1959).
Gabriel Fodor, Paris (possibly 1963).
Galerie Schmit, Paris.
Acquired from the above by the late owner, May 1999.
F.A. van Braam, ed., World Collectors Annuary, Amsterdam, 1952, vol. IV, p. 273, no. 2540 (illustrated, pl. 79; with incorrect cataloguing).
F. Daulte, Alfred Sisley: Catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre peint, Lausanne, 1959, no. 676 (illustrated; with incorrect provenance).
L. Reidemeister, Auf den Spuren der Maler der Ile-de-France, Berlin, 1963, p. 135 (illustrated).
M. Stevens, ed., Alfred Sisley, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1992, p. 222.
G. Lowry, intro., The David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection: Supplement, New York, 2015, vol. V, pp. 29-31, no. 4 (illustrated in color, p. 29).
Musée de Sceaux, Paysages de I’lle-de-France, 1951, no. 74.
Paris, Galerie Marcel Guiot, Bonnard et son époque: 1890-1910, April-May 1960, p. 22, no. 20.
Paris, Galerie Schmit, De Corot à de Staël, April-July 1997, no. 43 (illustrated in color).
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Lot Essay

“It is at Moret,” Sisley wrote in 1892, “in this thickly wooded countryside with its tall poplars, the waters of the river Loing here, so beautiful, so translucent, so changeable; at Moret my art has undoubtedly developed the most...I will never really leave this little place that is so picturesque” (quoted in R. Shone, Sisley, London, 1992, p. 123).
The site that Sisley extolled with such emotion in this letter is a quaint, medieval town about seventy-five kilometers southeast of Paris, near the confluence of the Seine and Loing. Sisley had moved to the region in 1880, settling initially at Veneux-Nadon on the left bank of the Loing, in a house just a few minutes’ walk from the railway station. In the fall of 1882, he moved about three miles away to Moret, which he described enthusiastically in a letter to Monet: “Moret is just two hours journey from Paris, and has plenty of places to let at six hundred to a thousand francs. There is a market once a week, a pretty church, and beautiful scenery round about. If you were thinking of moving, why not come and see?” (quoted in Alfred Sisley, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1992, p. 184). Sisley stayed at Moret for only a year on this occasion, before returning to Veneux-Nadon and the neighboring hamlet of Les Sablons. In 1889, however, he re-located once again to Moret, which would remain his home, and almost the exclusive subject of his art, until his death a decade later.
“Sisley had found his country,” the critic Gustave Geffroy would later declare (quoted in, ibid., p. 183). Although the artist painted within the walls of Moret only intermittently, he captured the view across the Loing toward the town from every possible angle, shifting his position or simply adjusting his sight line to create a veritable visual map of his new home in varying seasons and weather conditions. “Sisley remained rooted in his subjects, conveying in his views every perceived sensation, no matter how delicate and fugitive,” William Johnston has written. “For him, the ephemeral is trapped by his sequential exploration of a given location” (ibid., p. 196).
To paint the present canvas, Sisley set up his easel on the right bank of the Loing immediately upstream from Moret, looking back toward the historic center of the town. On the left side of the canvas are the stately arches of the bridge linking Moret with the road to Saint-Mammès, one of Sisley’s favorite motifs in the region. Silhouetted against the sky just behind the bridge is the Porte de Bourgogne, a twelfth-century gateway that stands at the western end of the span and marks the entrance to Moret itself. At the left edge of the composition, largely obscured by the tall tree in the foreground, is the Provencher watermill, which occupies the center of the Pont de Moret. Immediately to the right of the Porte de Bourgogne is the postern gate linking the streets of Moret with the poplar-lined embankment that runs along the River Loing.
From this vantage point, the densely packed buildings of old Moret present an impenetrable façade that recalls the town’s origin as a fortified royal city, strategically positioned between the lands of the Kings of France and those of the Duchy of Burgundy. The narrow Loing takes on the impression of a moat, protecting the village that Sisley had come to love.
Rather than positioning his easel at the very edge of the river bank, as he often did, Sisley here stepped back slightly and allowed the screen of poplars on the near bank to provide both frame and counterpoint for the architecture of Moret. The verticality of the tall trees, their gently curving trunks cropped by the upper edge of the canvas, contrasts with the low, horizontal expanse of cubic buildings. The trees create two equally sized “windows” onto the vista beyond, barring the viewer’s physical access to Moret and presenting it as an object of aesthetic contemplation. The opening at the left is centered on the lofty Porte de Bourgogne, whose reflection in the river links it visually to the near bank, while the one on the right frames the echoing row of poplars across the Loing, highlighting the various levels of depth that structure the composition. The two diminutive figures standing on the near bank serve as proxies for artist and viewer alike, gazing toward the town.
Sisley painted this spatially complex view on a late afternoon in high summer, looking roughly north-west toward Moret. The sky is still a clear blue, flecked with cumulus clouds, but the sun has started to drop behind the town in the middle distance, casting long shadows over the grassy foreground. The entire scene is subsumed in a golden glow, at once capturing a specific lighting effect and conveying an impression of heat and tranquility.
“This painting is poignant in its Impressionist representation of the transient effect of sunlight and shadow,” John Elderfield has written. “It is a summer afternoon painting, with long shadows and light on the turn; and it is a painting of stillness and silence, the two figures by the river seeming just as rooted as the trees. The quality of elegy thus conveyed draws attention to the separateness of the two figures, set as they are between one of a pair of isolated trees and a pair of intertwined trees, as if in a comparison of human and natural companionship and alienation” (G. Lowry, Intro, op. cit., 2015, p. 30).

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