Sisley was intent on capturing the different effects of the seasons, weather and time of day on the rural landscape, and remained preoccupied with describing the varying effects of light throughout these moments. The present work exemplifies a kind of spontaneity in the application of paint, a technical freedom which can be seen in Sisley’s work over the course of the 1880s. The artist builds his compositions by repeatedly layering pigment applied in quick brushstrokes in different directions, creating a richly textured surface saturated with composite colours. In the foreground of the present work, the shadowy green garden flecked with lilac offers the hint of wildflowers through the artist’s gestural insistence on verticality, while the sky moves horizontally, in undulating, rolling strokes of white, cerulean and pale violet.
For Sisley, the skies were as complex as the wild and heterogeneous terrain of the Île-de-France.
‘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.).
Writing in the catalogue of the Sisley retrospective exhibition held in 1992, Sylvie Patin observed: ‘he realised the full potential of using a specific type of brushstroke and quality of paint to identify the mood of a landscape, be it thin, flat strokes of dry, almost chalky paint to convey a becalmed, crisp winter day, or bolder, more fully laden strokes of pigment set down with more oil to capture the shimmering heat of a mid-summer day. […] his range of tonalities came to be centred more consistently on an axis of green and lilac, such as is also found in the contemporary work of Guillaumin, Toulouse-Lautrec and the Belgian Neo-Impressionists’ (Sylvie Patin, in Alfred Sisley (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., 1992-93, p. 183).
The importance of the Moret countryside cannot be overestimated in Sisley’s work of this period. The transformative quality of light in the region was a constant source of inspiration for the artist, allowing him to experiment ceaselessly from both a technical and chromatic point of view. It is an essentially Impressionist place with the gentle light of the Île 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’ (Vivienne Couldrey, Alfred Sisley, The English Impressionist, Exeter, 1992, p. 68).
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