In the late 1880s, while Alfred Sisley lived near to and in the small town of Moret-sur-Loing, he painted a succession of the most sublime Impressionist landscapes which stand as a whole as one of the great achievements of the movement, comparable to Monet’s Grainstacks series.
One of the groups of motifs is the Canal du Loing, here seen in 1885. These paintings typically have a low horizon, and reiterate his emphasis on the sky setting the mood and tone of his paintings. Below that, the water shimmers with the reflected buildings and relatively coarse brushstrokes rather than the more staccato style seen developing in Pissarro’s landscapes.
Another group is exemplified by Moret – The Banks of the River Loing, probably painted in the autumn/fall of 1885, with its slightly coarser marks and strong colour contrasts. These bring the foreground even closer, and push the background very deep.
Sisley continued to paint in locations such as the small port of Saint Mammès, and in the middle of the 1880s completed a large and loose series of works there, although not apparently intended as a formal series such as Monet’s later Grainstacks.
Although few of these paintings are available in usable images, this assembly of thirteen gives an idea of their consistency and variations. Sisley was later to paint more formal series, of which his best-known is of the town and bridge of Moret itself.
The Bend on the Loing at Moret from 1886 has all the elements of these paintings brought together: the all-important sky, a huge stand of poplars on the far bank, a barge with the town behind, and that marvellously broken water.
Sisley also recognised the potential of Moret and its bridge, a motif which was to dominate his work later. The Bridge at Moret, Storm Effect from 1887 is an early plein air sketch capturing the approach of a storm, with the sky remaining bright for the moment, but the gathering wind already driving up small waves on the River Loing.
Sisley seems to have started this series, showing the avenue of poplars at Moret-sur-Loing, in 1888, with the first two, shown above and below. They show views from and of almost identical locations, and are painted in very similar style, their differences being attributable to the transient effects of light. However there are more subtle differences in the trees, particularly in the depiction of their bark.
l’Etang de Chevreuil from about 1888 was presumably painted at one of the many local ponds, at dusk during the autumn/fall, with the warm light of the sun accentuating the autumn colours.
Moret at Sunset, October (1888) combines a rather longer view of Moret bridge and town with the avenue of poplars on the bank. The lighting in this image brings out the differences in facture between different passages, particularly over the water surface and sky.
Another of Sisley’s favourite groups of motifs in this period were the grand farmhouses along the riverbanks, such as this view of Houses on the Banks of the Loing from 1889.
Over these five years, Sisley had remained largely in isolation, painting outdoors around Moret. Although he did travel into Paris and meet other Impressionists there, he remained apart for much of the time. He sided with Monet against Pissarro’s Neo-Impressionism, and didn’t exhibit at the eighth and final Impressionist Exhibition of 1886. But while Monet and Renoir started making a living from their paintings, Sisley remained living in poverty, few of his paintings selling.
But he alone kept the faith, still working outdoors in front of the motif, and still in true Impressionist style.
Shone R (1992, revisions 2008) Sisley, Phaidon. ISBN 978 0 7148 3892 2.
Stevens MA (1992) Alfred Sisley, Yale UP. ISBN 0 300 05244 8.
Stevens MA (2017) Alfred Sisley, Impressionist Master, Yale UP. ISBN 978 0 300 21557 1.