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

La Seine Bougival

Alfred Sisley (1839-1899)
La Seine Bougival
signed and dated 'Sisley 72' (lower left)
oil on canvas
18 x 28 in. (46.3 x 73 cm.)
Painted in 1872
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris.
Paul Rosenberg & Co. Inc., Paris and New York.
Dr. Fritz Nathan, Zurich, by whom bought from the above in 1948.
Hans Jggli-Corti, Winterthur, the husband of the late owner.
F. Daulte, Alfred Sisley, Catalogue raisonn de l'oeuvre peint, Lausanne, 1959, no. 46 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie Paul Rosenberg, Sisley, May-June 1939, no. 2.
Winterthur, Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Europische Meister, 1790-1910, June-July 1955, no. 180.
Berne, Kunstmuseum, Alfred Sisley, Feb.-April 1958, no. 11.
Schaffhausen, Museum zu Allerheiligen, Die Welt des Impressionismus, June-Sept. 1963, no. 120.

Lot Essay

The present painting belongs to a small group of particularly lyrical pictures executed by Sisley in Bougival on the banks of the Seine in 1872. These include the slightly smaller La Seine Bougival: Automne (D. 88) now in the collection of the National Museum in Stockholm (fig. 4).

This small group of paintings, along with several others painted along the banks of the Seine at this time, are remarkable for their soft light effects, expansive skies and wonderful handling of reflections in the water of the river. Shortly before executing these Bougival pictures Sisley had spent the Spring working alongside Monet at Argenteuil. Here the two artists perfected several painting techniques which effectively allowed them to transmit soft light onto their canvases. First, they considerably muted their tones, working with a relatively limited range of colours to avoid hard contrasts. Secondly, they devised a soft-edged brushstroke whereby they applied their paints very dryly to the canvas. Where contrasts were needed, it would be brushwork rather than strength of colour that would carry the effect: here, for instance, all the tension in the picture is created by the contrast of the dry-scumbled brushwork in the sky with the dramatic broad brushwork in the waters of the Seine. The expansive sky also plays its part in generating the extraordinarily strong sense of tranquillity in the picture. It is both the main source of light and the instigator of the idyllic mood in the painting.

By the 1860s, Bougival - which lies some 10 miles from Paris between Port-Marly and Chatou - had become a popular retreat for Parisians. It was far enough away from the city not to have been touched by the spreading urban growth which had already begun to affect towns closer to Paris, such as Asnires. More a village than a town, its riverbanks retained traditional small-scale industries such as sawmills and consequently there was a constant level of river traffic which Sisley found particularly appealing. Aside from being a thoroughfare for small steamers and barges, this stretch of river was also extensively used recreationally. Many Parisians would take walks along the tree-lined riverbanks, bathing places were numerous and the hiring of rowing boats was a particularly popular activity.

All these elements attracted Sisley to Bougival and Sisley would frequently include small recreational tableaux in these beautiful pictures of the early 1870s. Here, for example, whilst the rowers at centre right provide a focus in the near foreground, so too the swimmer in the river or the couple walking their dog along the bank at the right, add human interest to this idyllic summer landscape.

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