Rudolf Lob, Boston
Mrs Albert Oostergetel, Melbourne (sold: Sotheby's, London, 30th March 1977, lot 6)
Purchased at the above sale by the father of the present owner
Sisley first moved with his family to Veneux-Nadon near Moret-sur-Loing in 1880, and continued to live in that area for the rest of his life, moving several times between the two villages. The local scenery offered a constant source of inspiration to the artist, who tried to capture the relationship between land, water and sky as well as the changing effects of light on his surroundings. In her discussion of Sisley’s paintings executed in this region, Vivienne Couldrey noted: ‘It is an essentially Impressionist place with the gentle light of the Ile de France, the soft colours and the constantly changing skies of northern France. There are green woods and pastures, curving tree-lined banks of rivers, canals and narrow streams, wide stretches of the river where the Loing joins the Seine at Saint-Mammès, old stone houses, churches and bridges’ (V. Couldrey, Alfred Sisley, The English Impressionist, Exeter, 1992, p. 68).
In the present composition Sisley depicted the boatyard at Matrat, downstream from the town of Moret, its focal point being the small house seen across the river. This part of the Loing landscape served as Sisley’s subject in a number of oils executed in 1892 and several years earlier. Whilst in most other paintings of the boatyard Sisley depicted workers going about their daily activities, often with the characteristic architecture of Moret with its church and arched bridge visible in the background (fig. 1), in the present work the artist focused on the serenity of nature. Although the boatyard was only a short distance from the town, its busy everyday life is not discernible in this composition.
Here, Sisley clearly took joy in depicting the splendour of nature, using quick, lively brush-strokes for the rich vegetation and cool blue tones to render the freshness of open air. Executed with such lightness that they appear to be moving in the slight breeze, the trees, aligned horizontally across the centre of the composition, give it a sense of frontality, contrasted by the winding shape of the river. This dichotomy exemplifies Sisley’s characteristic sense of space, in which the third dimension is suggested by introducing a road, a river or an avenue of trees. The vast sky in the present work 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’ (quoted in Sisley (exhibition catalogue), Wildenstein & Co., New York, 1966, n.p.).
Sisley, like Monet, continued to explore and develop the Impressionist style in the 1880s and 1890s and during this time his brushwork became more vigorous and the colouration more varied. In the 1880s, while his fellow Impressionists were already widening their subject matter and concentrating more on the human figure, Sisley continued to focus on the effects of light, seeking to capture the landscape at different times of the day and during different seasons. At the same time influenced by the advancing Neo-Impressionist theories and technique, Sisley used quick brushstrokes and a vibrant palette to create strong, lively colour contrasts. Painted on a bright day, Bords du Loing is a beautiful depiction of a riverscape with the house and trees reflected on the water's surface. Like many of his works it evokes an atmosphere of calm and serenity. The only suggestion of human activity is provided by the figure in the boat, whose calm movement down the river further emphasises a sense of tranquillity and harmony of man and nature.
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