For the present composition, Sisley set his easel at a quiet spot on the river bank, with only a few small figures going about their daily activities. In her discussion of this locale, Vivienne Couldrey noted: "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" (V. Couldrey, Alfred Sisley, The English Impressionist, Exeter, 1992, p. 68).
The village of Saint-Mammès was ideally situated on the confluence of the two rivers, seventy kilometers upstream from Paris. As the meeting point of all the waterways crossing central France, from its earliest days the town’s fortunes were inextricably linked to the river. Thanks to its strategic location, it became one of the foremost centers of barge activity in the region, and for a long time played a significant role in the history of the inland waterways. Although Sisley never lived in the village of Saint-Mammès, he was certainly attracted to this region and to the painterly possibilities it offered him. As the critic Gustave Geffroy wrote in 1923: “He sought to express the harmonies that prevail, in all weathers and at every time of day, between foliage, water and sky, and he succeeded… He loved river banks; the fringes of woodland; towns and villages glimpsed through the old trees; old buildings swamped in greenery; winter morning sunlight; summer afternoons” (G. Geffroy, “Sisley” in Les Cahiers d’Aujourd’hui, Paris, 1923, n.p.).
Sisley, like Monet, continued to explore and develop the Impressionist style during the 1880s and 1890s. It was toward the end of the 1870s that his brushwork became more vigorous and the palette more varied. The brushwork in the present work is wonderfully fluid, its rhythmical application of paint so typical of many of the oils dating from the late 1870s and the 1880s. Richard Shone wrote: “Sisley worked in all seasons and weathers along this beautiful and still unspoilt bank of the Seine. Its topography gave him new configurations of space in which far horizons combined with plunging views below; the horizontals of skyline, riverbank and receding path are overlaid by emphatic verticals and diagonals to produce densely structured surfaces. This becomes particularly evident in his landscapes painted in winter or early spring, before summer foliage obscured these far-reaching lines of vision. It is then, too, that Sisley’s skies assume a greater variety and grandeur. With more subtlety than before, he determines the exact relation of the sky to the silhouette of the land. He knows how to differentiate its planes, order its clouds, diminish or enlarge its scope to produce a harmony inseparable from the landscape below” (R. Shone, Sisley, London, 1992, p. 135).
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