Recently built, state-of-the-art bridges, emblematic of modernity, appear in a number of Sisley’s paintings of the 1870s and early 1880s. This close-up, dramatically angled view depicts the cast-iron and stone suspension bridge that was constructed in 1844 to connect the village of Villeneuve-la-Garenne with the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis. Sisley enlivened the scene by showing holidaymakers on the Seine and along the riverbank. Flat strokes of high-keyed color convey the fleeting effect of sunlight on the water.
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Title:The Bridge at Villeneuve-la-Garenne
Artist:Alfred Sisley (British, Paris 1839–1899 Moret-sur-Loing)
Medium:Oil on canvas
Dimensions:19 1/2 x 25 3/4 in. (49.5 x 65.4 cm)
Credit Line:Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ittleson Jr., 1964
Biography: Sisley was born in 1839 to English parents recently settled in Paris, where his father had a successful textile business; the artist spent practically his entire life in France but was never able to become a French citizen. Sisley’s father had hoped that he would go into the family trade and in 1857 sent him to be trained in London, but after four years the young man came home to enroll in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and in 1862 to work in the atelier of the influential Swiss-born Charles Gleyre. There he met Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, and Frédéric Bazille. The few early pictures by Sisley that have survived (most were lost when his studio was sacked in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War) are dark in tone, and indicate that he had studied the Barbizon School, notably Corot.
With his fellow painters, Sisley quickly gave up the studio environment in favor of painting out-of-doors to capture fugitive effects of light on the landscape, using a relatively loose technique and a palette of increasingly bright colors. The public and many critics were for years confounded by their styles and for the most part they were refused entry to the official Salons. Sisley’s work was in fact accepted and exhibited there in 1866, 1868, and 1870, but was little noticed. The artist lived mostly in Paris, from 1866 with Eugénie Lescouezec, his companion, who gave birth to their son Pierre in 1867 and their daughter Jeanne in 1869. Owing to this relationship, his disapproving father began to withdraw financial support, which ceased when his business failed during the 1870-71 war.
Thereafter, Sisley with his family lived an impoverished existence in various locations outside, but at no great distance from, the city. At first, they rented a house in Louveciennes. The artist participated in what came to be known as the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874, and showed with the group in 1876, 1877, and 1882. He became partially dependent upon the Paris art dealing firm of Durand-Ruel for his livelihood. The first of three visits to England in 1874 yielded fine views along the Thames River. The family returned to Louveciennes, then moved to Marly-le-Roi, and in 1877 to Sèvres, just west of Paris.
In 1880 they settled further away to the southeast, near the forest of Fontainebleau in the village of Veneux-Nadon, then roughly two hours from Paris by train. Their last home was in the same region, close to the confluence of the Seine and Loing rivers in the medieval country town of Moret-sur-Loing, where the artist died in 1899. Shortly before, on an 1897 trip to England and Wales, he legitimized his two children and married. Eugénie having predeceased him, he sought Monet’s help to look after his son and daughter after his death. Although Sisley grew up in Paris and London, he worked in the countryside almost exclusively. Friendly but reticent, and little appreciated, he painted on a relatively modest scale, before the motif: fields, roads, and villages, rivers and bridges that are generally tranquil in mood and with a slight human presence.
The Subject: Villeneuve-la-Garenne, on the Seine to the north of Paris proper, has been completely subsumed by urban development; almost nothing of the 1800s now remains. However, the buildings on the main street of the village and those to the left along the riverbank, as well as houses and a shop at right—yellow with an awning and a green curtain over the door—can be seen in various postal cards and were still standing in the first decade of the twentieth century. The cast-iron suspension bridge resting on stone abutments was built in 1844 to connect what had until then been a fishing village and small port with the Paris neighborhood of Saint-Denis, on the other side of the river. Evidently, none of his contemporaries chose Villeneuve-la-Garenne as a subject. Perhaps the artist stumbled upon the village while working side-by-side with Monet in nearby Argenteuil earlier in the year.
Related Works: Sisley set up his easel on the island of Saint-Denis where the river passes under the bridge. From a point a little further along to the right and set back among the trees, he painted a related work showing only the steep bank opposite and a few houses: the ones at the right edge of our painting are at the left side of this view (State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, inv. 1005). A third canvas (private collection) offers a straight-on approach to the roadway that crosses over the bridge between the larger town of Gennevilliers to the north and Paris to the south. All three are signed and date to the summer season (see also Daulte 1959, nos. 36, 40). Durand-Ruel bought the painting of the road on August 10 and the other two on August 24. Earlier, Sisley had completed three more distant landscapes showing the bridge.
The Painting: With its exceptionally strong design, the composition reads well from a distance, the three-dimensional interlocking angled forms of the bridge contrasting with a flat, bright sky upon which float small puffy clouds. A closer look reveals wide horizontal brush applications for the buildings under crisp vertical strokes for windows and shutters; irregularly contoured masses of green for shrubbery and grass; large commas and dabs of blue, green, and ivory for reflections on the flowing river. There are various dusty tracks leading from the road down the bank toward and along the water. Patches of sunlight and colored shade reveal sheds, small rowboats and oars, and lightly sketched figures enjoying the perfect weather. These are probably people from the city seeking entertainment and refreshment.
Provenance: The present canvas was bought by Paul Durand-Ruel on August 24, 1872. The dealer sold it to the operatic baritone Jean-Baptiste Faure (1830–1914) the following April. Faure, an important collector, eventually owned many landscapes by Sisley. Two studies for a portrait of Faure by Edouard Manet belong to The Met (50.71.1, 59.129).
Katharine Baetjer 2021
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower left): Sisley. 1872
[Durand-Ruel, Paris, 1872–73; bought from the artist on August 24, 1872, stock no. L.1877 for Fr 200; sold on April 15, 1873 for Fr 360 to Faure]; Jean-Baptiste Faure, Paris (1873–d. 1914; ca. 1910–14, deposited with Durand-Ruel, Paris, date book no. L.11941); his son, Louis Maurice Faure (1914–d.1915); his wife, Madame Louis Maurice Faure, Paris (1915–19; sold on February 1, 1919 to Georges Petit and Durand-Ruel); [Georges Petit and Durand-Ruel, Paris and New York, from 1919]; Alfred Bergaud, Paris (until 1920; his sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, March 1–2, 1920, no. 56, for Fr 37,200 to Gérard Frères); [Gérard Frères, Paris, from 1920]; Fernand Bouisson, Paris (by 1930); [Sam Salz, New York, as "La Seine à Bougival"]; Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ittleson Jr., New York (by 1957–64)
Paris. Galerie Georges Petit. "Exposition d'œuvres de Alfred Sisley," May 14–June 7, 1917, no. 54 (as "Village de la Garenne, environs de Paris").
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Paintings from Private Collections: Summer Loan Exhibition," July 1–September 1, 1958, no. 130 (as "The Bridge at Argenteuil," lent by Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ittleson, Jr.).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Paintings from Private Collections: Summer Loan Exhibition," July 6–September 4, 1960, no. 115 (lent by Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ittleson, Jr.).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Paintings from Private Collections: Summer Loan Exhibition," July 1–August 20, 1961, no. 87 (as "The Bridge at Argenteuil," lent by Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ittleson, Jr.).
New York. Paul Rosenberg & Co. "Loan Exhibition of Paintings by Alfred Sisley, 1839–1899," October 30–November 25, 1961, no. 3 (as "Pont de Villeneuve-la-Garenne," lent by Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ittleson, Jr.).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Paintings from Private Collections: Summer Loan Exhibition," July 3–September 6, 1962, no. 87 (as "The Bridge at Villeneuve-la-Garenne," lent by Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ittleson, Jr.).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Paintings from Private Collections: Summer Loan Exhibition," July 12–September 2, 1963, no. 74 (lent by Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ittleson, Jr.).
Paris. Grand Palais. "Centenaire de l'impressionnisme," September 21–November 24, 1974, no. 41.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Impressionist Epoch," December 12, 1974–February 10, 1975, no. 41.
Leningrad [St. Petersburg]. State Hermitage Museum. "From Delacroix to Matisse," March 15–May 10, 1988, no. 32.
Moscow. Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts. "From Delacroix to Matisse," June 10–July 30, 1988, no. 32.
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Alfred Sisley," July 3–October 18, 1992, no. 14.
Baltimore. Walters Art Gallery. "Sisley: Master Impressionist," March 14–June 13, 1993, no. 14.
Washington. Phillips Collection. "Impressionists on the Seine: A Celebration of Renoir's 'Luncheon of the Boating Party'," September 21, 1996–February 9, 1997, unnumbered cat.
Ferrara. Palazzo dei Diamanti. "Alfred Sisley: Poeta dell'impressionismo," February 17–May 19, 2002, no. 6.
Madrid. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. "Alfred Sisley: Poeta del Impresionismo," June 8–September 15, 2002, no. 7.
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyons. "Alfred Sisley: Poète de l'impressionnisme," October 10, 2002–January 6, 2003, no. 9.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. "The Masterpieces of French Painting from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1800–1920," February 4–May 6, 2007, no. 81.
Berlin. Neue Nationalgalerie. "Französische Meisterwerke des 19. Jahrhunderts aus dem Metropolitan Museum of Art," June 1–October 7, 2007, unnumbered cat.
Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal. "Alfred Sisley," September 11, 2011–January 29, 2012, unnumbered cat. (ill. p. 117).
Paris. Musée du Luxembourg. "Paul Durand-Ruel: le Pari de l'Impressionnisme," October 9, 2014–February 8, 2015, no. 96.
London. National Gallery. "Inventing Impressionism: Paul Durand-Ruel and the Modern Art Market," March 4–May 31, 2015, no. 89.
Philadelphia Museum of Art. "Discovering the Impressionists: Paul Durand-Ruel and the New Painting," June 24–September 13, 2015, no. 89.
Greenwich, Conn. Bruce Museum. "Alfred Sisley (1839-1899): Impressionist Master," January 21–May 21, 2017, unnumbered cat. (ill. p. 73).
Brisbane. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art. "European Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York," June 12–October 17, 2021, unnumbered cat.
Osaka. Osaka City Museum of Fine Arts. "European Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York," November 13, 2021–January 16, 2022.
Tokyo. National Art Center. "European Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York," February 9–May 30, 2022.
"La curiosité . . .la vente Bergaud." Bulletin de la vie artistique (March 15, 1920), p. 227, ill., as "Villeneuve-la-Garenne".
Gaston Poulain. "De Courbet à Chagall chez M. et Mme Fernand Bouisson." La Renaissance de l'art français 13 (December 1930), pp. 343–46, ill., as "Pont d'Argenteuil".
John Rewald. The History of Impressionism. New York, 1946, p. 274, ill., as "Bridge near Paris"; erroneously dates it about 1873.
François Daulte. Alfred Sisley: Catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre peint. Lausanne, 1959, p. 24, unpaginated cat., no. 37, ill. opp. p. 16 (color), fig. 37.
Theodore Rousseau in "Ninety-fifth Annual Report of the Trustees, for the Fiscal Year 1964–1965." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 24 (October 1965), pp. 55–56, ill.
Charles Sterling and Margaretta M. Salinger. French Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 3, XIX–XX Centuries. New York, 1967, pp. 119–20, ill., as dating from "the beginning of Sisley's serious pursuit of painting as a career".
Anthea Callen. "Jean-Baptiste Faure, 1830–1914: A Study of a Patron and Collector of the Impressionists and their Contemporaries." Master's thesis, University of Leicester, 1971, p. 416, no. 568.
Charles S. Moffett inImpressionism: A Centenary Exhibition. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1974, pp. 201–4, no. 41, ill. (color, overall and detail) [French ed., "Centenaire de l'impressionnisme", Paris], remarks that "the clear progression of the bridge into space conflicts with the flattening effect of the clear bright light".
Anthony M. Clark inThe Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1965–1975. New York, 1975, p. 81, ill.
Raymond Cogniat. The Century of the Impressionists. New York, 1978, p. 69, ill. color, calls it "The Bridge at Argenteuil".
Albert Kostenevich. Western European Painting in the Hermitage: 19th–20th Centuries. Leningrad [St. Petersburg], 1987, p. 292, under no. 81, ill., states that Sisley painted three landscapes at Villeneuve-la-Garenne in the summer of 1872, and that the two houses depicted at the right edge of this work also appear on the left-hand part of the version in the Hermitage (Daulte 1959, no. 40).
Robert L. Herbert. Impressionism: Art, Leisure, and Parisian Society. New Haven, 1988, pp. 226–27, 229, 243, colorpls. 227–28 (overall and detail), mentions its idyllic quality and the presence of visitors.
Anne Distel. Impressionism: The First Collectors. New York, 1990, pp. 87, 89.
John House. Monet. 3rd ed. London, 1991, p. 58, fig. 25, compares it to Monet's "Argenteuil" (ca. 1872, National Gallery of Art, Washington) with regard to brushwork and as examples of pictures that dealers such as Paul Durand-Ruel easily sold in the early 1870s.
Christopher Lloyd inAlfred Sisley. Ed. Mary Anne Stevens. Exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London. New Haven, 1992, pp. 13–14, 176 [French ed., "Sisley," Paris, pp. 21–22, 184].
John Leighton. "Alfred Sisley: 'Adroit, delicate, but . . .'?" Apollo 136 (November 1992), pp. 335–36.
William R. Johnston inAlfred Sisley. Ed. MaryAnne Stevens. Exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London. New Haven, 1992, p. 192 [French ed., "Sisley," Paris, p. 200].
Richard Shone. Sisley. New York, 1992, p. 68, colorpl. 35.
MaryAnne Stevens inAlfred Sisley. Ed. MaryAnne Stevens. Exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London. New Haven, 1992, pp. 78–79, 110, 112, 122, 132, 136, 145, no. 14, ill. p. 111 and on cover (color, overall and detail) [French ed., "Sisley," Paris, pp. 86–87, 118, 120, 130, 140, 144, 153, no. 14, ill. p. 119 (color)], relates it to all the other paintings from the campaign of 1872.
Sylvie Patin inAlfred Sisley. Ed. MaryAnne Stevens. Exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts. New Haven, 1992, p. 224 [French ed., "Sisley," Paris, p. 232].
Albert Kostenevich inMorozov and Shchukin—The Russian Collectors: Monet to Picasso. Ed. Georg W. Költzsch. Exh. cat., Museum Folkwang Essen. Cologne, 1993, p. 377.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 463, ill. p. 464.
Joel Isaacson inImpressionists in Winter: Effets de neige. Exh. cat., Phillips Collection. Washington, 1998, p. 70, fig. 10.
Dominique Brachlianoff inAlfred Sisley: Poète de l'impressionnisme. Exh. cat., Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyons. Paris, 2002, pp. 113, 364.
Frances Fowle inAlfred Sisley: Poète de l'impressionnisme. Exh. cat., Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyons. Paris, 2002, pp. 122, 124, 367, no. 9, ill. p. 123 and on cover (color detail).
Richard R. Brettell and Stephen F. Eisenman. Nineteenth-Century Art in the Norton Simon Museum. Ed. Sara Campbell. Vol. 1, New Haven, 2006, p. 290, fig. 78a.
Kathryn Calley Galitz inThe Masterpieces of French Painting from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1800–1920. Exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. New York, 2007, pp. 116–17, 257–58, no. 81, ill. (overall and detail, color and black and white).
Kathryn Calley Galitz inMasterpieces of European Painting, 1800–1920, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, pp. 132, 306–7, no. 121, ill. (color and black and white).
Eberhard Illner inAlfred Sisley. Ed. Gerhard Finckh. Exh. cat., Von der Heydt-Museum. Wuppertal, 2011, p. 51, ill. pp. 53, 117 (color), gives the 1920 sale price as 37,000 francs.
A. G. Kostenevich inThe State Hermitage: Treasures from the Museum's Collections. Vol. 2, London, 2014, p. 263.
John Zarobell inInventing Impressionism: Paul Durand-Ruel and the Modern Art Market. Ed. Sylvie Patry. Exh. cat., Musée du Luxembourg, Paris. London, 2015, p. 88, fig. 59 (color) [French ed., "Paul Durand-Ruel: le Pari de l'Impressionnisme," Paris, 2014, fig. 44 (color)].
Christopher Riopelle inInventing Impressionism: Paul Durand-Ruel and the Modern Art Market. Ed. Sylvie Patry. Exh. cat., Musée du Luxembourg, Paris. London, 2015, p. 270, no. 89, ill. (color) [French ed., "Paul Durand-Ruel: le Pari de l'Impressionnisme," Paris, 2014, p. 189, no. 96, ill. (color)], notes that Durand-Ruel must have thought highly of it since he had it engraved to be included in an unrealized album of prints after the most beautiful paintings in the gallery's stock.
Isabelle Collet inThe EY Exhibition—Impressionists in London: French Artists in Exile 1870–1904. Ed. Caroline Corbeau-Parsons. Exh. cat., Tate Britain. London, 2017, p. 199 [French ed., "Les Impressionnistes à Londres: Artistes français en exil, 1870–1904," Paris], compares it to the artist's "The Bridge at Hampton Court, Mitre Inn" (1874, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud, Cologne).
MaryAnne Stevens inAlfred Sisley: Impressionist Master. Exh. cat., Bruce Museum. Greenwich, Conn., 2017, pp. 66, 102, ill. pp. 1, 73 (color, overall and detail), compares it to his later "Under Hampton Court Bridge" (1874, Kunstmuseum Winterthur).
Kathleen Adler inAlfred Sisley: Impressionist Master. Exh. cat., Bruce Museum. Greenwich, Conn., 2017, p. 65.
Katharine Baetjer inEuropean Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Exh. cat., Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art. South Brisbane, 2021, pp. 224, 232, ill. p. 225 (color).
Sylvie Brame and François Lorenceau. Alfred Sisley: Catalogue critique des peintures et des pastels. Lausanne, 2021, pp. 52, 411–12, 549, no. 34, ill. (color).
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