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

Saint Mammès, avant l'été

Alfred Sisley (1839-1899)
Saint Mammès, avant l'été
signed 'Sisley.' (lower right)
oil on canvas
19¼ x 25 5/8 in. (48.9 x 65.1 cm.)
Painted in 1883
Mme E. Kohn.
Paul Gadala, Paris.
Private collection, Paris; sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 20 December 2006, lot 158.
Acquired at the above sale by the previous owner.
Paris, Galerie Rosenberg, Exposition Sisley, November 1904, no. 23 (titled 'Soleil du matin à Saint Mammès').
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Lot Essay

The Comité Alfred Sisley will include this painting in the new edition of the Sisley catalogue raisonné by François Daulte, being prepared at Galerie Brame et Lorenceau.

This dazzling, light-filled landscape, painted by Alfred Sisley in 1883, depicts the small port and village of Saint-Mammès, lying at the confluence of the rivers Seine and Loing. This was one of Sisley's favourite locations to paint, captured from a range of shifting vantage points in an important group of paintings executed during the 1880s, in which the central motif in Saint-Mammès, avant l'été of a barn-like structure and rustic buildings appears a number of times.

It was in 1880 that Sisley moved from Sèvres to Veneux-Nadon, a remote village situated three miles west of the fortified town of Moret-sur-Loing and seventy-five kilometres south-east of Paris. Sisley was to remain in this very rural area for the rest of his life, residing in a number of its picturesque villages and towns before finally settling in Moret-sur-Loing in 1889. The move may have been initially impelled by Sisley's increasingly straitened financial circumstances of the late 1870s, but it was also a symbolic one: it was in the nearby Forest of Fontainebleau, the cradle of modern French landscape painting, that Sisley had painted during his formative years. Now delighting in the many converging waterways and the gently undulating terrain of this region of Île-de-France, the critic Gustave Geffroy noted that, 'Sisley had finally found his countryside' (quoted in S. Patin, 'Veneux-Nadon and Moret-Sur-Loing: 1880-1899', in M. Stevens, ed., Alfred Sisley, exh. cat., London, 1992, p. 183).

Sisley's move to the Moret area coincided with what has come to be known as the 'crisis of Impressionism'. Changing personal circumstances, differing ideas regarding exhibition practices, and stylistic shifts saw artists such as Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro and Pierre-Auguste Renoir follow more individual directions. Indeed 1882, the year before Saint-Mammès, avant l'été was executed, was the final year Sisley himself would participate in the group Impressionist exhibitions. There he showed twenty-seven paintings depicting his new surroundings. 'Sisley has masterfully taken possession of the banks and waters of the Seine', concluded Ernest Chesneau of these recent works (E. Chesneau, Paris-Journal, 7 March 1882, in The New Painting, Impressionism 1874-1886, exh. cat., Washington D.C. & San Francisco, 1986, p. 418).

Pitching his easel on the riverbank by the Quai de Seine in Saint- Mammès, the view in the present painting looks eastwards, upstream towards the Saint-Mammès bridge spanning the Seine. This bridge is identifiable by its four arches and two widely spaced pairs of piers-- the first of which can be seen to the very left of the canvas--and was painted frequently by Sisley. This was most notably so in his celebrated Le pont de Saint-Mammès of 1881, now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The local economy of Saint-Mammès focused on its rivers and canal and this stretch of land bordering the Seine was a particularly bustling area of the village, known for its boat-yards, chandlers and refuelling stops. Here, Sisley presents us with a landscape in which the figures are not just incidental. In Saint-Mammès, avant l'été the figures, as well as livestock and a distant boat, not only attest to the level of everyday activity of the village and present us with an image of local life, but serve to anchor the composition itself.

Depicting a morning in late spring, the vibrancy of colours, ebullient brushwork, articulation of light and shade, and underlying compositional structure all distinguish this painting as a particularly accomplished work. Although Sisley continued to stay true to the central tenets of Impressionism, concentrating on light, colour and atmosphere, and working directly before the motif, his paintings from this period exhibit a more marked interest in exploring intense colour and surface texture. Here, the sunlight enters the picture from the top of the canvas, to the right of the facing gable's apex; it bathes the landscape in a bright, crystalline morning light, casting the building to the right into a lilac-grey shade. A shimmering palette of lime greens, yellows and pastel pinks rendered in small dabs and short, thin vertical strokes animates the immediate foreground. The extremely impressive and layered expanse of sky is articulated in a variety of hooked and horizontal strokes and, as in much of Sisley's work, is accorded a vital role. 'The sky cannot be mere background', the artist once declared, 'On the contrary, it helps to add depth through its planes, it also gives movement through its shapes. Is there anything more splendid or thrilling than that which is frequently found in summer, I mean the blue sky with beautiful clouds, white and drifting. What movement, what allure they have! It has the effect of a wave at sea; it exalts you and carries you along' (Sisley quoted by A. Tavernier, L'Atelier de Sisley, reproduced in R. Shone, Sisley, London, 1992, p. 220). This belief in the importance of the sky has echoes of John Constable, as does Sisley's abiding interest in depicting the riverside landscapes surrounding his home in the Moret region.

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