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Un Verger / An Orchard



Alfred Sisley (1839-1899)
Un Verger / An Orchard
oil on canvas
AGLC 376 @ A.G Leventis Gallery

Alfred Sisley, born in Paris to English parents and having lived essentially in France, nevertheless died a British subject, his naturalisation still being processed at the time of his death. A friend of Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870), Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) and Claude Monet (1840-1926) since around 1863, Sisley, having also briefly studied painting in the studio of Charles Gleyre (1808- 1874), was essentially an autodidact. Towards the end of his life, he cited amongst his inspirations Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863), Jean-Baptiste- Camille Corot (1796-1875), Jean-François Millet (1814-1875), Théodore Rousseau (1812-1867) and Gustave Courbet (1819-1877). A member of the same anti-academic movement as his friends, he is considered one of the first Impressionists. Primarily a landscape artist, he lived in the suburbs of Paris, never far from the Seine, in Louveciennes, and later in Marly-le-Roi and Sèvres, which all served as subjects for his paintings during the 1870s. In 1880, he chose the region of Moret-sur-Loing, on a tributary of the Seine, upstream and two hours away from Paris, according to his own description. He lived in a succession of houses there, as well as in the neighbouring communities of Veneux-Nadon (today Veneux-les-Sablons) and Saint-Mammès until his death in 1899. Over almost 20 years, his motifs concentrated on the banks of the Seine and the Loing, around the confluence of the two rivers and the banks of the Canal du Loing close by, and on the surrounding countryside. 

Un Verger, which is dated to 1885 by a nervous and hasty hand, is typical of the artist’s maturity. This country landscape is extremely simple: an orchard, a winding road suggesting depth, a couple of roofs (probably those of the village of Les Sablons) – the view punctuated by a human silhouette. The deliberate decision to give the completed work a sketch-like quality, with very visible brushstrokes, was a result of the Impressionist aesthetic also observed by Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) and Monet, to whom Sisley is often compared. It was in fact a comparison of these three artists in an important article1 by the poet Stéphane Mallarmé (1842- 1898) for an English journal on the subject of the second exhibition of the Impressionist group in 1876 that best defined the specificity of Sisley and proves pertinent to Un Verger: ‘Rarely have three workers wrought so much alike, and the reason of similitude is simple enough, for they each endeavour to suppress individuality for the benefit of nature. […] Sisley seizes the passing moments of the day; watches a fugitive cloud and seems to paint it in its flight; on his canvas the live air moves and the leaves yet thrill and tremble. He loves best to paint them in spring […] 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 being an opaque mass, too heavy for an impression of such mobility and life.’

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About the artist

He was born in Paris to English parents. A friend of Frédéric Bazille, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Claude Monet from around 1863, Sisley briefly studied painting in the studio of Charles Gleyre, but was essentially selftaught. He was one of the first Impressionist painters. Primarily a pure landscape artist, he always lived near Paris, never far from the Seine; the river was a main motif in his work, along with the surrounding countryside, particularly at Moret-sur-Loing. He remained dedicated to the Impressionist aesthetic and to painting en plein air throughout his career.

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