Sisley painted this autumn landscape at Louveciennes, a picturesque suburban enclave about twenty kilometers west of Paris, where the artist lived from 1871 until 1875. With its willow-lined river banks and gently rolling hills, Louveciennes, as well as the neighboring towns of Bougival and and Marly-le-Roi, had long attracted a sizable colony of writers and painters. In the 1830s, the painter Vigée Lebrun described being seduced "by this spacious view that unfolds, as the eye follows the long course of the Seine, by the splendid woods at Marly and the delightful orchards, so well tended you could believe yourself in the Promised Land; in short, by everything about Louveciennes, one of the most charming places on the outskirts of Paris" (quoted in R. Shone, Sisley, New York, 1992, p. 54). Following a visit to the region in 1855, the Goncourt brothers called it "the homeland and the studio of landscape, where every tree, every willow, every fissure of the earth reminded you of an exhibition" (quoted in R.L. Herbert, Impressionism: Art, Leisure, and Parisian Society, New Haven, 1988, p. 204). Yet it was the Impressionist painters who embraced the area around Louveciennes most enthusiastically. By the time that Sisley moved there in 1871, Pissarro and Renoir were already settled in the vicinity, and Monet was staying nearby at Argenteuil. The landscapes that the four artists painted there from 1869 onward are often considered the first Impressionist pictures, and the region has been justly called the "cradle of Impressionism" (R. Brettell, A Day in the Country: Impressionism and the French Landscape, exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1984, p. 79).
Sisley contributed five paintings to the first exhibition of the Société Anonyme des Peintres, which was held in Paris in April-May 1874; he and colleagues were henceforth known as the "Impressionists." Sisley spent July through October in England, where he painted views of the Thames at Hampton Court. He probably painted the present landscape shortly after his return to Louveciennes in the fall. The leaves of the apple trees have turned color and begun to drop, and a large stack of harvested hay has been laid near the farmhouse in anticipation of the coming winter. The long shadows of late afternoon reinforce the autumnal character of this scene. Beyond the simple division into earth and sky, the composition is organized with rigorous precision, especially in the depiction of the farm buildings, and the receding rows of trees that direct the viewer's eye toward them. Describing Sisley's work from this period, Christopher Lloyd has written:
The group of paintings by Sisley dating from the 1870s are subject to the strictest pictorial organization. It is this compositional aspect, in addition to their facture, that makes these pictures, in comparison with landscapes by artists of the Barbizon school, specifically modern. Sisley incorporates an almost relentless array of horizontals, verticals, and diagonals deployed as plunging perspectives and flat bands of planar divisions. The origins of such a style can be found in seventeenth-century French painting carried forward through Henri-Pierre Valenciennes to neo-classical landscape painting culminating in the Italian landscapes of Corot dating from the 1820s. Yet Sisley, more so in many cases even than Pissarro and Monet, was more radical than any of his sources, since he seeks to bring order to a world in an ever increasing state of flux. The depiction of modernity was best served by a resolute style derived from astute visual analysis and confident technique. (in Alfred Sisley, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1992, pp. 14-16).