The Comité Sisley has confirmed the authenticity of this work. This work will be included in the new edition of the catalogue raisonné of Alfred Sisley by François Daulte, being prepared at the Galerie Brame & Lorenceau by the Comité Sisley.
In the last few months of 1879, Sisley visited the Moret region to look for a house to rent. He chose a sizeable L-shaped building in the village of Veneux-Nadon, where he moved with his family in 1880 after leaving the suburbs of Paris. The walled Medieval town became Sisley’s artistic home; a nearby footbridge over the railroad tracks gave access to the riverbank near the confluence of the Seine and the Loing, and the meadows bordering the Forest of Fontainebleau were a short walk to the west. Sisley studied the region closely, capturing its varying aspects from diverse vantage points and in different seasons until his death in 1899. 'The situation was ideal,' Richard Shone has written, 'for the variety of the immediate landscape – farmland and forest, rail, river and canal, cottage gardens on the one hand, overgrown copses on the other, the whole area teeming with chance viewpoints and constantly changing light' (R. Shone, Sisley, London, 1992, p. 128).
A quintessential view of a curving path receding into the distance, with a lone figure modestly outlined against the surrounding landscape, Soleil d’hiver a Veneux-Nadon is certainly the product of someone 'who walks in the countryside to be filled with joy and to enjoy life agreeably in the fresh air.' These are the words of Theodoré Duet, who celebrated Sisley’s devotion to the Impressionist aim of preserving transient moments from nature (T. Duret, Les Artistes impressionnistes, Paris, 1878, p. 20; in M.A. Stevens, Alfred Sisley: Impressionist Master, London, 2017, p. 40).
Sisley’s move to the region of Veneux-Nadon coincided with a decisive phase in the development of Impressionist painting. In 1880, Emile Zola, previously a prominent supporter of the Impressionists, criticised them for failing to have yet created a true masterpiece that would stand the test of time. While Monet, Renoir, and Pissarro began to re-examine their methodology and paint more and more from their studios, Sisley remained dedicated to the group’s key tenet of painting en plein air. Instead of turning to the bustling cafés, scenes for which Renoir became famous, Sisley was devoted to the natural landscape of Moret to the point that he gained the reputation of being a recluse later in life. Mary Anne Stevens commented that Sisley would have been a 'familiar figure, whether leaving the town or, later in the day, returning to it, with his latest canvas' (M.A. Stevens, ibid., p. 23).
In Soleil d’hiver a Veneux-Nadon, the lone figure features as an anecdotal element within the landscape; the meandering path, the bare tree branches, and the clouded sky instead provide the character of the scene. Although Sisley’s choice of subject - the almost-unpopulated landscape - remained little unchanged through the course of his time in the Moret region, his treatment of the landscape progressed during the period to challenge convention, but only to further enhance his depiction of the charm of the area. Through the 1880s, Sisley increasingly explored views that countered the convention of mapping the scene by way of a curving path, road, or stream receding towards the distant horizon. Sisley would often insert trees in the middle-ground to disrupt traditional spatial relations, the curved trunk replacing the movement provided by a path and thereby adopting an idiosyncratic character all its own. Sisley’s brushstrokes also became more dappled to mirror the work of Monet and his colour palette introduced complementary colours with warm pinks and purples set against blues. Soleil d’hiver a Veneux-Nadon demonstrates Sisley’s keen understanding of the relationship between the features of the landscape and the light that falls upon them in different seasons and in different hours of the day. The warm hues of the sunlight shine through the tall branches with hints of purple reflecting upon the remaining vegetation bordering the path. Stéphane Mallarmé praised Sisley’s developing style during this period, drawing attention to how the artist 'watches the fugitive cloud and seems to paint it in its flight; on his canvass [sic] the live air moves and the leaves yet thrill and tremble' (S. Mallarmé, ‘The Impressionists and Edouard Manet’, The Art Monthly Review, 30 September 1876; in Ruth Berson, ed., The New Painting: Impressionism 1874-1886, San Francisco, 1996, vol. I, pp. 95-96). In the words of Gustave Geffroy, Sisley’s biographer, he is 'increasingly a painter of the sky, vast peaceful skies quivering from the low horizon to the zenith with a soft, pink tone, with shades of pale blue' (G. Geffroy, ‘Alfred Sisley’, Les Cahiers d’Aujourd’hui, 13-14, Paris, 1923; in M.A. Stevens, ibid., p. 82).
Soleil d’hiver a Veneux-Nadon was exhibited in the seventh Exposition des Artistes Indépendents in Paris in March 1882. The painting featured alongside other scenes of the Moret region and with works by fellow Impressionists, Monet, Renoir, and Pissarro, although Sisley was the only artist to show landscapes exclusively. This was the last Impressionist group exhibition in which Sisley would feature. He refused to exhibit any paintings in the eighth and final exhibition as he chose to try to return to the Salon, an effort that resulted in failure. In 1879, the same year the present work was painted, Renoir had written to Georges Charpentier imploring the publisher to hold a solo exhibition for the artist in the offices of La Vie Moderne. Renoir and Monet were then both amongst those who followed Sisley’s coffin in 1899 to the cemetery at Moret-sur-Loing, located at the bottom of a rocky outcrop in the Forest of Fontainebleu. Soleil d’hiver a Veneux-Nadon marks the beginning of the evolution of Sisley’s approach to landscape painting that developed during the time he spent immersed within the natural features of the Moret region. There, Gustave Geffroy wrote, Sisley 'had found his country' (Gustave Geffroy, Sisley, Paris, 1923, p. 19; in Sylvie Patin, ‘Veneux-Nadon and Moret-sur-Loing: 1880-1899’, in M.A. Stevens, ed., Alfred Sisley, London, 1992, p. 183).