In 1872, after the traumatic months he spent in Paris during the Prussian Siege and the Commune, Sisley moved to Voisins, a hamlet adjoining Louveciennes on the western outskirts of the capital. He settled in a small apartment at 2, rue de la Princesse, with his wife and two children - Pierre, born in 1867, and Jeanne-Adèle, born in 1869.
Discussing Sisley's early Impressionist paintings of this period, Richard Shone writes: 'The landscape paintings of Alfred Sisley... occupy an inviolable position in the history of early Impressionism... [these oils] are indispensable to an account of Impressionist landscape painting in the 1870s. Indeed, they are... fundamentally representative of our notion of what constitutes 'pure' Impressionism' (R. Shone, Sisley, London, 1992, p. 7).
Above all in the early 1870s, Sisley is a painter of light. In 1872 he had spent the spring working alongside Monet at Argenteuil where the two artists had tried to perfect techniques for transmitting soft light onto their canvases. First they considerably muted their tones, working with a relatively limited range of colours. Secondly they devised a soft-edged brushstroke to avoid harsh contrasts. Where contrasts were needed, it would be brushwork and golden highlights rather than bursts of colour that would now carry the effect. Shadows also play a very important part. Here, for example, it is the highlight whites and yellows and the strong shadows which subtly focus our attention on the two young children and the wheelbarrow at the lower centre of the composition. The following spring, Renoir and Sisley worked together, as they had done so frequently before. Both artists set up their easels by the side of a road on a hillside with flowering trees. The present work and Renoir's La route dans la campagne, printemps, were the result and John Rewald reproduces them side by side in his seminal work The History of Impressionism (London, New York, 1973, illustrated p. 287).
These paintings of 1873 are also characterised by their expansive skies. Executed in expressive strokes, the blue Sisley uses is typical of this period. The colour gives to the paintings a tremendous feeling of happiness and light which adds to the idyllic mood of these pastoral landscapes.
Enfants jouant dans la prairie was acquired directly from the artist by Jules Feder, the prominent banker and Director of the controversial Union Générale, who financially supported Durand-Ruel at the beginning of the 1880s and was a great patron of the leading Impressionist artists.