Sisley lived in Sèvres, the famous center of French porcelain manufacturing, between 1877 and 1880. These years were among the most trying of his career. Disappointed with the response to the third Impressionist group exhibition in 1877, and impatient to see his paintings exposed to a wider public, Sisley submitted entries to the official Salon in 1879. His paintings were rejected and, having contravened the Impressionist group's rule against applying to the Salon, he was unable to join the fourth Impressionist exhibition held that same year. This resulted in the further dwindling of his sales.
Despite these difficult circumstances, Sisley never compromised his commitment to plein air painting and the Impressionist technique that he had developed over the course of the previous decade. With all the dogged insistence and optimistic outlook of one convinced of his chosen path, Sisley continued to push the envelope of his technique, further developing it in the direction of greater improvisation and diversity of means. There was little hope that these methods would meet with any more success than previously, except for his belief that a growing number of sympathetic viewers would come to appreciate the truthfulness and authenticity of his view of nature.
During the latter half of the 1870s, Sisley traveled in the area west of Paris along the Seine, exploring motifs around Sèvres, Saint-Cloud and Bougival, Port-Marley and Louveciennes. The site depicted in the present painting is the village of Mont-Valérien, situated on the left bank of the Seine near Saint-Cloud. Its fame lay in its role as an historic redoubt commanding extensive eastward views toward Paris. Typically, however, Sisley elected not to paint the scenic panorama available to him, but instead concentrated on the hamlet's verdant surroundings and humble, rustic charm. The peasant seated at the fork in the path in the foreground hospitably invites the viewer's gaze up the lane to the farmstead in the distance, guided along by the wood fence on the right. There is nothing notable about the place itself, except for the possibilities it offers the artist to paint the felicities of light, weather and the simple motifs of the rural landscape. The poet Stephane Mallarmé wrote: "Sisley seizes the passing moments of the day; watches a fugitive cloud and seems to paint it in its flight; on his canvas the live air moves and the leaves yet thrill and tremble" (quoted in R. Shone, Sisley, London, 1992, p. 118).
Chemin montant au Mont Valérien was formerly in the collection of Alexandre Berthier, the fourth Prince de Wagram. Writing on 30 August 1930, the celebrated dealer René Gimpel commented on Wagram's extraordinary collection: "The prince, of whom I spoke in 1918, was killed in the war. When he acquired these pictures from the Bernheim brothers, at high prices for the time (but I must say that they are masterpieces), he came to believe that the dealers had swindled him; he brought charges against them. What! To go to jail for having sold 30 Courbets, 50 Renoirs, 47 Van Goghs, 28 Cézannes, 40 Monets, 26 Sisleys, 20 Pissarros, 10 Puvis de Chavannes, 11 Degas, 12 Manets!... The Bernheims were acquitted and began yelling that the government owed them reparation, i.e., the Légion d'honneur. The government probably did owe it to them, as it gave it to them. The prince's sister inherited the collection and has sold it, for perhaps twenty-five times more than it cost" (Diary of an Art Dealer, New York, 1966, p. 372).