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On a walk with Sisley

The road from Versailles to Saint-Germain is one of the most abundant and delicious works by Alfred Sisley (1839-1899). Made in 1875, this oil on canvas magnifies the golden light of a beautiful summer day. The road, of which we see only a bend between the majestic trees, draws the gaze towards the horse-drawn carriage surmounted by a parasol. A sky, hemmed with big fine weather cumulus clouds overlooks a small village, suggested in the background, and, on the right, a vineyard contemplated by a character who walks along the edge. In the foreground, in the quivering of grass and bushes, a young woman is seated near her basket.

Alfred Sisley. La route de Versailles à Saint-Germain en Laye. 1875. Paul Getty Museum
Alfred Sisley. La route de Versailles à Saint-Germain en Laye. 1875. Paul Getty Museum

The strokes of brilliant color in the painting and the lively, spirited brushstrokes are resolutely impressionistic in style, in which the spirit of a Corot or a Constable still lingers. The characters are only suggested by very skilful touches which reveal their attitudes for those who contemplate the canvas from a distance.

Alfred Sisley. La route de Versailles à Saint-Germain en Laye. 1875. Paul Getty Museum
Alfred Sisley. La route de Versailles à Saint-Germain en Laye. 1875. Paul Getty Museum

The composition of the painting is meticulous, with, on the right, a quarter of its surface for the sky and for the small grassy hillock, and a horizon placed well in the center. The spectator therefore contemplates the scene standing, on a slight promontory which places his gaze at the height of the village, in the background. On the left, the foliage of the tall trees occupies almost all the space, and the trunks where shadows and light play together clear the bend taken by the carriage. A diagonal linking the beginning of the road with the base of the vineyard directs the eyes towards the figure on the right, seated in the meadow.

Alfred Sisley. La route de Saint-Germain.1874. McNay Art Museum
Alfred Sisley. La route de Saint-Germain.1872. McNay Art Museum

A year earlier, Alfred Sisley had already produced "La route de Saint-Germain" on this theme. Same direction of turn, same carriage and same suggestion of characters for this painting presented, with 5 other canvases, at the first Impressionist exhibition in April 1874. The critic Jules-Antoine Castagnary commented on it in these terms: "Monsieur Sisley has distinction, and he brings it to grace in a truly poetic landscape..." and Catulle Mendès finds the work "charming".


In his art history lectures, Fabrice Roy combines the past with the present, in a poetic and playful evocation of the French 19th century...



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