Financial crisis and political turmoil wracked France in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War. In this difficult climate, Guillaumin had to support his work by taking jobs as a clerk, a commercial blind painter and a ditch digger. As a result, Guillaumin did not often find time to participate in the informal discussions among the group of artists, later known as the Impressionists, who gathered on occasion at the Café Voltaire, an establishment that belonged to his childhood friend, Eugène Murer. Instead, Guillaumin preferred to spend his limited free time exploring the environs of Paris in search of inspiring vistas to paint. He stayed in contact with the group mostly through his friends Camille Pissarro and Paul Cézanne, whom he had known since 1859 when they were students together at the Academie Suisse in Paris.
In 1872 Pissarro invited Guillaumin and Cézanne to join him in Pontoise where he had recently resettled with his family. In a letter of September 1872, Pissarro wrote to a fellow painter Antoine Guillemet, "Guillaumin has just spent several days at our house, he works at painting in the daytime and at his ditch-digging in the evening, what courage!" (quoted in J. Rewald, The History of Impressionism, New York, 1980, p. 292). That same year Pissarro introduced Guillaumin to Dr. Paul Gachet, who invited him to paint with Cézanne at his home. According to Christopher Gray, Dr. Gachet purchased two of Guillaumin's paintings, a still life that Guillaumin had painted during the visit and Soilel couchant à Ivry (circa 1873; Serret and Fabiani, no. 20). La Seine was painted in February 1873 and it displays the Impressionists's interest in depicting naturalistic effects of light and atmosphere while choosing subjects that reflected contemporary life. In La Seine, Guillaumin focuses on the industrial activity of the barges and factories along the river on the outskirts of Paris. The muted cool grey and blue tones evoke the somber mood of an overcast day. The following year, Pissarro encouraged Guillaumin to exhibit in the landmark first group exhibition of the Impressionists that took place at 35, Boulevard des Capucines, in a former studio of the photographer Nadar.