This painting will be included in the new edition of the catalogue raisonné of Alfred Sisley by François Daulte now being prepared at the Galerie Brame et Lorenceau by the Comité Alfred Sisley.
Painted in 1868, Chemin près du Parc de Courances is an important early landscape by Alfred Sisley dating from the formative years of what would come to be known as Impressionism. It was during this time that Sisley formed a part of the group, several of whom had met at the studio of Charles Gleyre at the beginning of the decade, which would include Frédéric Bazille, Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. These artists often worked together, either in their studio in the Batignolles district of Paris or in the countryside, for instance at Fontainebleau, which was near the Parc de Courances shown here. There, Sisley had developed his love of painting en plein air, which would come to be an important factor in his work for the rest of his life. This picture dates from a period of happiness and progress for Sisley: at this time, his father's successful business helped to support his career as an artist. This provided a comfort that was stripped away by the Franco-Prussian War only a couple of years later, when his father's business would collapse, precipitating his death. From that point onwards, Sisley was obliged to live on the proceeds of the sales of his pictures; Chemin près du Parc de Courances, by contrast, sings with an ease that in part may reflect the artist's own situation. This was also a time of great excitement, when some of the most important pictures by his fellow artists were being painted. Indeed, it was in 1868 that Renoir would paint one of his first large-scale pictures, Le couple Sisley now in the Wallraf Richartz Museum, Cologne, showing Sisley with his common law wife Marie-Adélaïde-Eugénie Lescouzec, who had given birth to their first child the previous year.
Looking at Chemin près du Parc de Courances, the influence of one of Sisley's great artistic heroes can be discerned: Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. However, at the same time, the picture has the freshness that bespeaks its being painted outdoors; it already has an easy confidence about it, explaining why it was singled out by the writer Gustave Geffroy in his early monograph on the artist as showcasing the fact that during this early period of his career, Sisley had laid the foundations of what would become his signature style, a true Impressionism, capturing the atmosphere and sensation of a fleeting moment. For Geffroy, this painting prefigured the works of Sisley's late, high mature period, showing his incredible consistency and explaining why his friend Camille Pissarro would describe him as, 'a great and beautiful artist,' explaining that, 'in my opinion he is a master equal to the greatest' (Pissarro, quoted in C. Lloyd, 'Alfred Sisley and the Purity of Vision', pp. 5-33, M Stevens (ed.), Alfred Sisley, exh. cat., New Haven and London, 1992, p. 8).
It is only fitting that Chemin près du Parc de Courances has had a history which reflects its importance. This picture featured in the large retrospective exhibition held at the Galeries Georges Petit in February 1897, two years before Sisley's death; this remains the largest show ever dedicated to the artist. It was owned by one of Sisley's most prominent friends and supporters, his doctor Georges Viau, one of the great sponsors of Impressionism. Viau was a close friend of many of the artists of the day and provided a vital financial lifeline to Sisley during his later years in particular. Chemin près du Parc de Courances was one of a dozen pictures by Sisley that Viau sold at auction in 1907 when he dispersed some of his epic collection; this picture was offered alongside pictures by Eugène Boudin, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, Pissarro and Renoir. Viau carried on collecting, and indeed was painted in 1914 by Edouard Vuillard, shown in his office treating Annette Roussel in a painting now in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris.