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

La route de Gennevilliers

Alfred Sisley (1839-1899)
La route de Gennevilliers
signed and dated 'Sisley 72' (lower left)
oil on canvas
15¼ x 18 1/8 in. (38.5 x 46 cm.)
Painted in 1872
Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Paris (acquired from the artist, 10 August 1872).
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Paris (acquired from the above, 24 February 1899).
Ernest Cognacq, Paris.
A. Bergaud, Paris; sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 1 and 2 March 1920, lot 58.
Galerie Paul Rosenberg, Paris (acquired at the above sale).
Fernand Javal, Paris (acquired from the above, 1935).
Private collection, Paris (by descent from the above); sale, Sotheby's, New York, 11 November 1999, lot 101.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
F. Daulte, Alfred Sisley: Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Lausanne, 1959, no. 36 (illustrated).
M.A. Stevens, ed., Alfred Sisley, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1992, pp. 108, 110, 112.
Paris, Galerie Paul Rosenberg, Sisley, May-June 1939, no. 5.
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Alfred Sisley, May-September 1957, no. 7.

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Brooke Lampley
Brooke Lampley

Lot Essay

Painted in 1872, this sunlit summer scene depicts the stone and cast-iron suspension bridge that leads into Villeneuve-la-Garenne, a small village on the left bank of the Seine a few miles upstream from Sisley's home at Louveciennes. The bridge had been opened in 1844, connecting Villeneuve-la-Garenne to Saint-Denis on the opposite bank and ending the village's relative isolation. One could now travel north from Paris to Saint-Denis, a distance of only seven kilometers, and then cross the bridge (which rested on the island of Saint-Denis) to reach Villeneuve. The picturesque village quickly became a popular spot for Parisian day trippers and vacationers, as well as serving as a river port for the nearby town of Gennevilliers. Sisley visited this area twice during the spring and summer of 1872, producing a sequence of six landscapes that explore the regional road access to the capital and both the recreational and commercial activities on the banks of the Seine here. The present painting is the only one from this group of important early Impressionist canvases that remains in private hands. The other examples are housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Musée d'Orsay (part of the famed May triptych), the Hermitage, the Fogg, and the Kimbell (Daulte, nos. 27, 37-38, 40, and 47).

To paint the present scene, Sisley set up his easel on the Ile Saint-Denis, looking across the bridge toward Villeneuve. Unlike his contemporaneous Pont de Villeneuve-la-Garenne (Daulte, no. 37; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), which treats the cast-iron span as a monumental structure soaring above the viewer, the present painting maintains a reassuringly human sense of scale, placing the spectator on a level with the road as it recedes into the background toward the bridge. In the foreground on the right, a woman in plain villager's clothing walks towards the viewer, her back to Villeneuve; several figures on the bridge approach the town instead, while others (presumably vacationers) pause on the span to enjoy the view along the Seine. These sketchily rendered figures thus underscore the bridge's role as the conduit to and from Villeneuve for residents and visitors alike, Sisley among them. The strong diagonal of the road--one of Sisley's favorite formal devices during this period--provides the focal point for the tightly ordered composition, endowing the scene with instant structure and depth. The measured pacing of the tree trunks to either side of the road emphasizes its perspectival plunge, while the expanse of glinting foliage and cloud-flecked sky above lends horizontal breadth to the composition and showcases Sisley's mastery of Impressionist technique.

Sisley was not alone among his Impressionist colleagues in his interest in representing human movement through the Seine valley. Beginning with the inauguration of the first train line from Paris in the mid-1830s, the construction of new railways, roads, bridges, and canals had transformed the social as well as the physical geography of France, drastically increasing the mobility of the population and ushering in the era of tourism. Scott Schaefer has written, "The Impressionists sought to provide images of the rapidly expanding horizon of the French population... In addition to capturing on canvas, in a specifically modern way, the popular vacation sites and pleasurable outdoor activities made possible by leisure time, the Impressionists focused on the specific means by which such pastimes and places were being made accessible to an ever-growing public even as they were painted" (A Day in the Country: Impressionism and the French Landscape, exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1984, pp. 139 and 145).

In August of 1872, just weeks after he painted the present canvas, Sisley sold it to the influential dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, whom he had met earlier in the year through Monet. The painting subsequently entered the collection of Ernest Cognacq, who had founded "La Samaritaine" department store in Paris in 1869.

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