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

La berge à Saint-Mammès

Alfred Sisley (1839-1899)
La berge à Saint-Mammès
signed 'Sisley.' (lower right)
oil on canvas
19 7/8 x 25 7/8 in. (50.5 x 65.6 cm.)
Painted in 1880
M. Picq, Paris.
Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris (no. 2393), by whom acquired from the above on 25 June 1892.
The Reverend Theodore Pitcairn, Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, by whom acquired from the above on 4 June 1926; sale, Christie's, London, 1 December 1970, lot 69.
Private collection, London, by whom acquired at the above sale, and thence by descent; sale, Christie's, New York, 4 November 2003, lot 10.
Private collection, by whom acquired at the above sale; sale, Christie's, London, 6 February 2006, lot 60.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
F. Daulte, Alfred Sisley, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Lausanne, 1959, no. 388 (illustrated).
M.A. Stevens, ed., exh. cat., Alfred Sisley, London, 1992, p. 194.
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Summer Exhibition, 1960.

Lot Essay

Although Alfred Sisley was not to settle in the idyllic hamlet of Saint-Mammès until 1883, he completed fifteen paintings in or around the town in 1880, while living nearby in the small village of Veneux-Nadon. Positioning himself on the opposite banks of the river to the town, Sisley examined the interplay between land, water and sky that characterised this serene location, depicting the river as it winds its way past a cluster of buildings on one side and a field of wildflowers on the other. The rural, untouched atmosphere of this part of the Île-de-France offered a startling contrast to the more developed areas of the Seine that fascinated many of the artist’s contemporaries, such as at Argenteuil and Asnières, which had both been dramatically altered by the arrival of industry and tourism in recent years. Sisley had moved to the area in the same year as the present work was painted, driven by financial difficulties, and began exploring the converging waterways, gently undulating terrain, and expansive sky, subjects which would continue to absorb him for the rest of his life. In a letter written to a friend in January 1892, Sisley himself proclaimed that the region was the source of his best and personally most significant work.

In the present composition, Sisley sensitively captures every subtle shift between sunlight and shadow that he observed, every shimmering, fragmented refection on the water, every modulation of colour in the landscape, flickering between warm and cool tones under the constantly changing atmospheric conditions. For the artist, every nuance of change was intriguing, whether it be a difference in time of day, in the weather or season. The surface of the canvas is brought to life by the dense, rhythmic strokes of paint, most notably in the comma-like brushwork of the tumultuous, cloud-filled sky. The artist’s touches of pure pigment in the wild flowers and dense grasses of the bank on which he stands, meanwhile, create a graphic, almost abstract, pattern of colour as the strokes of paint interweave and overlap with one another. The freedom of this brushwork conveys a sense of the spontaneity with which Sisley has created the composition, swiftly recording the ephemeral, fugitive effects of nature before they shift, alter and disappear. In this way, La berge à Saint-Mammès illustrates Sisley’s unwavering dedication to the central principles of Impressionism, which led the critic Adolphe Tavernier to describe the artist as ‘a magician of light, a poet of the heavens, of the waters, of the trees – in a word, one of the most remarkable landscapists of his day’ (A. Tavernier, quoted in M. Stevens, exh. cat. Alfred Sisley, London, 1992, p. 28).

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