Shortly after Sisley had participated in the historic exhibition of the Société des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs et Graveurs, he was invited by Jean Baptiste Faure to accompany him to England. Faure, the celebrated baritone of the Paris Opera was an early collector of the Impressionists.
Sisley and Faure arrived in England in July 1874 where they remained for four months. Born in Paris to English parents, Sisley visited London for the first time at the age of eighteen to study commerce. "His particular temperament and feeling for the English landscape painters, his decision made in England to become a painter and his subsequent visits all underline a deep link with his ancestral land. London provided the catalyst and the turning point for Sisley" (R. Nathanson, exh. cat., David Caritt Limited, op. cit., p. 5).
During 1874, Sisley frequently chose to paint views along the banks of the Thames. "Sometimes the small village of Hampton Court, with its iron bridge, shaded walks, and magnificent palace, with people fishing or strolling along the river-bank; or a summer Sunday afternoon with skiffs and boats, white sails billowing, skimming over the water, held the painter's attention" (F. Daulte, Sisley, Loan Exhibition, Exh. cat., Wildenstein, New York, 1966). According to Richard Shone it is possible to deduce from the viewpoint adopted in at least two of Sisley's paintings of this year (D.123 and D.125) that he stayed in the old-fashioned Castle Inn, with its long riverside terrace and landing-stage (R. Shone. Sisley, London, 1992, p. 68).
Nicholas Reed has further suggested that the shadows in the present work prove that in common with the rest of the Hampton Court series, it was painted on the south bank, but that it is unique in looking downriver. Neither the bridge nor the lock are clearly visible, implying that it was painted some distance upstream, with Taggs Island on the left. The white building in the distance might be the earlier Molesey boathouse, replaced by the current one in 1902 (N. Reed, op.cit, p. 42).
Shone continues "In the Hampton Court series Sisley achieves, as Kenneth Clark was later to write, a 'perfect moment of Impressionism', paintings probably unmatched for their 'complete naturalism and truth to a visual impression, with all its implications of light and tone'" (R. Shone, op.cit., p. 67, referring to K. Clark, Landscape into Art, London, 1949).
In a discussion of Sisley's technique during the early 70s, John Rewald has noted that in some paintings "he reverts to softer colour schemes, rich in silvery grey, but...handled with such subtleness that any danger of monotony is avoided; instead a gentle and new lyricism pervades his work. Sisley's paintings now radiate assurance, an eagerness for discovery and the enjoyment of a newly won freedom" (J. Rewald, The History of Impressionism, New York, 1946, p. 290).
Of all the Impressionists, Sisley was the one most dedicated to landscapes, painting outdoor scenes in all seasons and in varying weather conditions. He declared to the art critic Adolphe Tavernier in 1892, that the painters he admired most were Delacroix, Corot, Millet and Rousseau. "The artist saw himself as a successor to the Barbizon painters. In contrast to pure Impressionists, such as Monet or Guillaumin, Sisley saw a landscape in three dimensions. He felt that the expression of distance and space was one of the most important aspects of painting, an aspect which he made peculiarly his own, and which he never lost" (F. Daulte, Exh. cat., op. cit.).
A total of sixteen paintings have been identified from Sisley's visit to Hampton Court and Molesey. Thirteen were catalogued by Daulte (op.cit., no.s 114-126) and three more have since been traced. Other views of Hampton Court of 1874 are now held in major international collections, including the Sterling and Francine Institute, Williamstown (D.155), the Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne (D.123), and the Neue Pinakothek, Munich (illustrated).