In 1875 Sisley settled in the town of Marly-le-Roi, where he would remain for the next three years and paint some the finest pictures in his oeuvre. He had known the region since the early 1870s, when he lived in Louveciennes, a town not far from his new home.
During the previous year, some of Sisley's paintings had sold for strong prices in the auction of the collection of Ernst Hoschedé, but the resultant sales from the highly anticipated first Impressionist group exhibition that took place a few months later, to which Sisley had contributed five landscapes, were extremely disappointing. The inaugural attempt to expose the Impressionist experiment to a wider audience had left the public and most critics deeply skeptical, and even vehemently dismissive, of the group's innovative approach to painting methods and subject matter. Most of the artists continued to work under increasingly straitened circumstances, and Sisley left Paris for Marly in order to economize on his living expenses. In an attempt to further alleviate his financial worries, Sisley joined with Monet, Renoir and Morisot to hold an auction of their paintings. The sale was held in March 1875, and comprised a total of 73 paintings, including 21 canvases by Sisley. The event was met with little success, and Sisley began the summer with few possibilities for future sales, and alarmingly diminished financial resources to keep him going.
Sisley was optimistic by nature, however, and these growing worries did little to prevent him from doing some of his best work. The present painting was done at Andrésy, a town situated north of Marly, on the west bank of Seine opposite the northern edge of the Saint-Germain-en-Laye forest. It was painted during the summer, while the Seine was at its lowest ebb, which is perhaps the reason why Sisley has given it only a limited presence in the lower right corner of the composition. Modern industrial life was beginning to encroach upon the town, as it was elsewhere along the busy riverside between Paris and the Channel. Sisley elected in this case to omit the smokestack of the small tannery in the cluster of buildings seen at right; it does, however, appear in a related painting, Le quai à sable (Daulte no. 177; sale, Christie's, New York, 13 November 1996, lot 27). Sisley instead preferred to emphasize the more picturesque vestiges of the region's aristocratic heritage, which included associations with Francis I, Henry IV, Louis XIII and Louis XIV, the latter having been born in nearby Saint-Gemain-en-Laye.
Sisley's tonal palette in Paysage à Andrésy is rich and luminous--the heavy summer air is almost palpable in the waft of blondish tones that traverse the canvas. As in many of Sisley's vintage paintings from this period, the composition is carefully built up from interlocking planes, balanced around the receding diagonal of the pathway and fence. Amid delicately rendered atmospheric effects, Sisley's subjects possess appropriate weight and substance. Sisley recounted to his friend Adolphe Tavernier: "To give life to the work of art is certainly one of the necessary tasks of the true artist. Everything must serve this end: form, color, surface effects of light which have an almost material expression in nature must be rendered in material fashion on the canvas" (quoted in R. Goldwater and M. Treves, Artists on Art from the XIV to the XX Century, London, 1947, pp. 308-310).
(fig. 1) View from the terrace of the Restaurant Belle-Vue, Andrésy.