Private Collection, Europe (by descent from the above; restituted by the Leipzig Museum der Bildenden Künste in 1994. Sold: Sotheby’s, London, 28th June 1994, lot 9)
Purchased at the above sale by the late owner
Sisley remained in Moret until his death in 1899, and it was here that his work achieved its final flowering; incorporating both his favourite compositional motifs, such as the receding avenue of trees, and a distinctly post-impressionist approach to applying paint. The surrounding landscape of Moret provided limitless variation and opportunity for painting. Visible in the background of this painting is the old bridge at Moret-sur-Loing, which links the historic town centre with the road to Saint-Mammes and is also the principal feature of a number of other paintings of this period (fig. 1). Gustave Geffroy wrote about Sisley’s obsessive mapping of Moret’s surroundings and landmarks: ‘And here is Moret bridge, the mill, the three poplars that Sisley so often celebrates […]. The atmosphere is pure and fresh; the masses of the houses and trees are clearly outlined in the pure air, with no halo of mist or of refracted sunlight. The rustic bridge arches the river to either side of the mill, behind are houses with cosy roofs, low, countrified buildings, a dense wood, three giant poplars. Reeds lean over at the water’s edge. A calm sky, with milk-white nimbus clouds unmoved by any breath of air. The bank is green, the bridge and houses are in harmonies of violet, closer to pink than to blue. The Loing, clear, transparent, unwrinkled, expansive, reflects stones and greenery, clouds and reedbeds. The river is as deep as the sky; it has the same wealth of forms as the landscape that it mirrors’ (G. Geffroy quoted in Alfred Sisley (exhibition catalogue), Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1992, p. 234).
However, the town itself was not Sisley’s primary subject, as Richard Shone explains: 'The fame of Moret rested not so much on what was found inside the town but on the view it presented from across the Loing. Old flour and tanning mills clustered along the bridge; the river, scattered with tiny islands, seemed more like a moat protecting the houses and terraced gardens that, on either side the sturdy Porte de Bourgogne, in turn defended the pinnacled tower of the church. Add to this the tree-lined walks along the river, the continuous sound of water from the weir and the great wheels of the mills, the houseboats and fishermen, and there was, as every guidebook exclaimed, 'a captivating picture', a sight 'worthy of the brush'. These supremely picturesque aspects of Moret left Sisley unabashed’ (R. Shone, Sisley, London, 1992, p. 159).
Although Sisley was the quintessential Impressionist painter his compositional motifs often derived from the more traditional arrangements he admired. A particular favourite was Meindert Hobbema's Avenue at Middelharnis which shares a lithe avenue of poplars as its central device with the present work (fig. 2). The extraordinary vitality of Sisley's trees is amplified by the gloriously vernal atmosphere evoked by the verdant palette employed. The beautifully painted sky embodies the importance that the artist attached to this part of the landscape, as explained in a letter to his friend, the art critic Adolphe Tavernier: 'The sky is not simply a background; its planes give depth (for the sky has planes, as well as solid ground), and the shapes of clouds give movement to a picture. What is more beautiful indeed than the summer sky, with its wispy clouds idly floating across the blue? What movement and grace! Don't you agree? They are like waves on the sea; one is uplifted and carried away' (A. Tavernier quoted in Sisley (exhibition catalogue), Wildenstein & Co., New York, 1966, n.p.).
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