ALFRED SISLEY (1839-1899)
ALFRED SISLEY (1839-1899)
ALFRED SISLEY (1839-1899)
ALFRED SISLEY (1839-1899)
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ALFRED SISLEY (1839-1899)

Le pont du chemin de fer

ALFRED SISLEY (1839-1899)
Le pont du chemin de fer
signed ‘-Sisley.’ (lower left)
oil on canvas
18 1⁄4 x 21 7⁄8 in. (46.3 x 55.6 cm.)
Painted circa 1880
Dr. Edouard Mollard, Paris (by 1930); sale, Palais Galliéra, Paris, 4 December 1972, lot 50.
Private collection, Biarritz (acquired at the above sale).
By descent from the above to the present owner.
F. Daulte, Alfred Sisley: Catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre peint, Lausanne, 1959, no. 363 (illustrated).
S. Brame and F. Lorenceau, Alfred Sisley: Catalogue critique des peintures et pastels, Lausanne, 2021, pp. 182 and 456, no. 432 (illustrated in color, p. 182).
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Tableaux de Sisley, February-March 1930, no. 35 (titled Sur le pont du chemin de fer).
Paris, Paul Rosenberg & Co., Sisley, May-June 1939, no. 24.

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Lot Essay

Contrasting the picturesque charm of a provincial village with the invasive presence of industrial steam power, Le pont du chemin de fer is a remarkable expression of Sisley’s fascination for his rural surroundings in Moret-sur-Loing, a region that inspired the majority of the artist’s later works. Capturing something fundamental of the region’s character, Le pont du chemin de fer belongs to a series of landscapes Sisley executed in the early 1880s, which marked the last significant development of his career as an Impressionist painter. In the present picture, Sisley focused on a place where landscape shaped by men and nature’s wilderness encounter each other: the eponymous bridge emerges from the bottom left of the painting, extending towards the low horizon line where it vanishes into a small rural settlement. Despite the attention that Sisley pays to the mellow landscape of the Île-de-France, there are billows of steam that line the bottom of the canvas, framing the bridge and interrupting the natural serenity of the scene.
Sisley had left his urban home in 1880, leaving the west of the Parisian suburbs to settle in the south, two hours by train away from the capital. The artist first took a place in Veneux-Nadon, a small village bordering the railway connecting Lyon to Paris. In autumn 1882, however, Sisley moved to Moret-sur-Loing, a neighboring town built across the river Loing. By following the river north, one reached Saint-Mammès, a town wedged between the rivers of the Loing and the Seine. It was there that the smaller river joined the Seine, providing the artist with a stimulating subject that he would paint from different perspectives and under different weather and light conditions. Sisley was very satisfied with his new setup: in 1882, shortly after his move, the artist wrote to Claude Monet, "It’s not a bad part of the world, a chocolate-box landscape… Moret is two hours away from Paris, with plenty of houses to rent… Market once a week, very pretty church, some quite picturesque views…" (quoted in S. Patin, "Veneux-Nadon and Moret-sur-Loing: 1880-1899," Alfred Sisley, exh. cat., The Royal Academy, London, 1992, p. 184). A decade later, the artist affirmed that it was in Moret that he produced his best and most significant works,
Quiet life and enticing landscape, however, may have not been the only motives that encouraged Sisley to move to the area of Moret-sur-Loing. The region reconnected the artist to his own past, precisely with the beginning of his career as an Impressionist painter. It was there, bordering the edge of the Fontainebleau forest, that in the 1860s Sisley, Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Frédéric Bazille had painted together, following the example of the painters of the School of Barbizon such as Théodore Rousseau and Charles Daubigny. Twenty years later, Sisley returned to that same scenery with renewed interest and ambition. Having been in search of a change of surroundings, Sisley found his proximity to Fontainebleau, the area that had served as a crucible for the birth of Impressionism, led him to return to the original aims of the movement. While criticism and self-doubt assailed his contemporaries, Sisley remained convinced of the aims of Impressionism and continued on his quest to capture on canvas the colors of the seasons and light at different times of the day. Immersed in the rich variety of views that this corner of France offered, Sisley was particularly taken by the more rugged and unkempt aspects of the local terrain, and during this time he often painted views from the paths that wound through the thickets along the Seine's edge.
Le pont du chemin de fer, however, was a direct thematic continuation of the work that Sisley had completed while living in Sèvres, near Paris, between 1877 and 1880. Here, the bridge joining Billancourt and Sèvres became the subject of Sisley’s painting on ten separate occasions, conveying the artist’s appreciation for the intersection between nature and feats of industry. In Le Pont de Sèvres (1877), Sisley exhibits his true impressionist style, using liberal brushstrokes to create a fluidity between artificial and natural phenomena and incorporating the bridge almost completely into the middle ground of the painting. And earlier still, in 1872, Sisley had taken the imposing figure of the bridge at Villeneuve-la-Garenne as his subject matter; yet here, he very deliberately emphasized the bridge as being in contrast to the landscape, not part of it. Much like his contemporary Monet had done in Le pont du chemin de fer à Argenteuil (1873), Sisley frames the bridge as a focal point of the landscape, but also a rude interruption to its elegance, a permanent symbol of the industry of the region.

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