Alfred Sisley (French, 1839-1899) Le Petit Bougival (Painted in 1874)

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Lot 10*
Alfred Sisley
(French, 1839-1899)
Le Petit Bougival

Sold for £ 434,500 (US$ 569,851) inc. premium
Alfred Sisley (1839-1899)
Le Petit Bougival
signed 'Sisley.' (lower right)
oil on canvas
27.6 x 40.7cm (10 7/8 x 16in).
Painted in 1874


  • Provenance
    J.-B. Faure Collection, Paris.
    Mme. Faure Collection, Paris (by descent from the above).
    Durand-Ruel, Paris, no. 11957 (acquired from the above on 1 February 1919).
    Fernand Buisson Collection, Paris.
    Private collection, Switzerland.

    Paris, Galeries Georges Petit, Alfred Sisley, 14 May - 7 June 1917, no. 44.

    G. Poulain, 'De Courbet à Chagall chez M. et Mme. Fernand Bouisson', in La Renaissance, Paris, December 1930 (illustrated p. 345).
    F. Daulte, Alfred Sisley, catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Paris, 1959, no. 135 (illustrated).

    Painted in 1874, Le Petit Bougival was executed at a time of exceptional productivity but also of great uncertainty for Alfred Sisley who was trying to make a living as an avant-garde painter in a climate of political instability. To escape the Franco-Prussian war and the siege of Paris in 1871, Sisley and his family left Paris for Louveciennes and, in the winter of 1874, moved to the neighbouring town of Marly-Le-Roy, a stone's throw away from Bougival, close to the river Seine.

    It was at this moment that Sisley discovered his fascination with the beauty of the Seine valley which would last a lifetime and led him to produce canvases quintessentially Impressionist in their composition, style and subject matter. The discovery of Bougival and the surrounding countryside provided a new source of inspiration and the artist produced numerous canvases depicting the river Seine and the neighbouring woodland; so much so that landscapes became his favourite subject. Indeed, unlike his Impressionist counterparts, who painted social crowds, celebrations of people or Mediterranean landscapes, Sisley painted traditional rural life: 'The subject matter on which Sisley resolutely turned his back – scenes of everyday urban life, interiors with figures, bustling Paris streets, the whole panoply of la vie modern – was just what attracted attention in the works of his fellow exhibitors. Sisley was a landscape painter tout court and almost absurdly modest in the selection of his motifs' (R. Shone, Sisley, London, 1992, p. 62).

    Alfred Sisley was born in France to English parents and it was during his first trip to London in 1857 that the young man discovered the works of fellow English landscape painters, John Constable and J.M.W. Turner. The works by these painters were to awaken his passion for landscape painting and have a profound influence on his art. In 1861, aged 22, Sisley entered the Atelier Gleyre in Paris where it is understood that he remained a student for three years and met Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Frédéric Bazille and Claude Monet; together the friends broke away from classic academic art and embarked upon the journey of Impressionism: a new direction for French painting and one that was to capture a much more evocative and atmospheric depiction of the external environment.

    A key influence in Sisley's work was Camille Corot. Both artists favoured rural scenery as their chosen subject, but Sisley most particularly drew inspiration from his fellow painter in the careful positioning and structuring of his compositions. As Richard Shone notes, 'the influence of Corot...runs throughout Sisley's work. Both pitch their easels at the edge of the wood or by the side of a road entering a village; both place country figures in an intimate but undramatic relation to their surroundings ... seen against massed foliage below skies that fill nearly half the canvas' (R. Shone, op. cit, p. 35).

    Describing an idyllic spring day, the present work has all the characteristic elements of a study en plein air with its flurry of short and broken brushstrokes in pastel colours. The work is carefully arranged in an orderly and balanced manner with the leafy trees to the far right echoing the sturdy house to the far left, naturally framing the composition. The delicate sky occupies almost half of the composition and is reflected in the crisp water of the river which seems to be gently lapping at the riverbank. The pathway to the foreground of the painting forms a sharp 'c' shaped curve alongside the river, creating a dynamic asymmetry within the painting which gently draws the eye towards the on-looking passers-by, finally leading to the pontoon at the centre of the work.

    Le Petit Bougival is an outstanding example of Sisley's mastery in handling the subtlety of colour. From the dusty pinks, soft greys and hues of pale blue which form the sky and water, to the nuances of green and yellow which make up the land, Sisley layers these colours in rapid and delicate brush strokes creating a rich surface texture and capturing a scene imbued with a soft spring glow. Describing Sisley's incredible talent, the poet Stéphane Mallarmé, and admirer of the artist, said 'Sisley seizes the passing moments of the day; watches a fugitive cloud and seems to paint it in its flight; on his canvass [sic] the live air moves and the leaves yet thrill and tremble. He loves best to paint them in spring, when the yonge leves on the lyte wode, waxen al with will, or when red and gold and russet-green the last few fall in autumn; for then space and light are one, and the breeze stirring the foliage prevents it from becoming an opaque mass, too heavy for such an impression of mobility and life' (quoted in R. Shone, op. cit, pp. 118 - 122).

    Le Petit Bougival is a typical example of one of Sisley's most treasured subjects, the river. For him, every nuance in the change of the weather or time of day could be reflected in the surface of the water and this offered a new way to explore the landscape and its atmospheric effects. Consequently, time and again, Sisley revisited riverside paysages from the same viewpoint to depict nature in all seasons. The predominance of the sky also resounds with Sisley's interest in capturing the spontaneity of change in the weather. Indeed, the artist painted this particular stretch of the river Seine near Bougival on many occasions and during all seasons of the year; in summer, autumn and in winter. As François Daulte emphasises, 'Sisley loved above all to paint the Seine, flowing calmly past within its leafy banks. He was a painter of water-fluid, opaque, moving yet still ... It was probably between this period, between 1872 and 1874, that Sisley painted his most sensitive and finest pictures.' (F. Daulte quoted in R. Shone, Sisley, New York, 1992, pp. 11 - 12).

    Whilst Monet and Renoir both enjoyed the public success for their talents during their lifetime, Sisley always remained in the shadows. Like so many of his contemporaries, he was condemned for the apparent lack of finish in the execution of his works but also for the repetition of his chosen subjects, which some described as dull and monotonous. Unable to obtain gratification or understanding from the public, Sisley found support from the visionary art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel who said '... [Sisley] expresses his personality through charm, the gentle use of colour, his serenity of vision and depth of expression' (P. Durand-Ruel quoted in L. Venturi, Les Archives de l'Impressionnisme, Lettres de Renoir, Monet, Pissarro, Sisley et autres, Mémoires de Paul Durand-Ruel, New York, 1939, p. 28) and he gave relentless support and encouragement to the artist, often being the sole buyer of his works. Aside from his few friends, Renoir, Pissarro and Cézanne, Sisley found very few other admirers and he was to never know fame in his lifetime. As the artist accumulated disappointments and debts he withdrew from bustling urban and social circles and retreated to the borders of the river Seine where, aside from a couple of short visits back to England, he largely remained until his death. Yet Sisley remained true to himself and went on to produce over 900 canvases, a large part of which are landscapes of the river Seine, and are now some of the most admired works in leading museum collections.

    Since his death, Sisley has been established as a major landscape painter of the Impressionist period and is recognised as a truly authentic Impressionist. Indeed, as fellow artist Camille Pissarro described him: 'a great and beautiful artist, in my opinion he is a master equal to the greatest' (C. Pissarro quoted in C. Lloyd, Camille Pissarro, London, 1981, p. 8).

Saleroom notices

  • This work will be included in the new edition of the catalogue raisonné of Alfred Sisley by François Daulte now being prepared at Galerie Brame & Lorenceau by the Comité Alfred Sisley.
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