French, 1839 – 1899
The Quay of the Seine during Snow Season, 1879
Oil on canvas
Museum purchase, 1979.3
Born and raised in Paris of English parents, Alfred Sisley quietly became one of the central figures in the French Impressionist movement. Like his father, he first set out on a career in the cotton and coffee business, but after seeing the work of the English landscapists J.M.W. Turner and John Constable while studying in London, he elected to pursue his interest in painting instead. By 1862, Sisley was studying in Paris under Charles Gleyre, through whom he met Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Together, the three would revolutionize painting in France.
In the autumn of 1877, Alfred Sisley moved to the town of Sèvres, just a few miles southwest of Paris, where he would remain for the next two years. Like Monet’s Argenteuil, Sèvres was far enough from the city to allow Sisley to paint rural landscapes, but close enough for him to stay in touch with friends and colleagues in Paris. His time in Sèvres proved to be a crucial transitional point in his career, as he shifted from the softer painting style of his earlier career to the more agitated brushwork that would define his later work.
Sisley painted The Quay of the Seine during Snow Season toward the end of his time spent in Sèvres. Like his friend Monet, he struggled in the late 1870s (Sisley would be evicted from his house in Sèvres by March 1879), finding collectors for his paintings scarce and a reliable income non-existent. In fact, Sisley was forced to basically beg for help from his friend, famed Parisian editor Georges Charpentier, who sent him enough money to rent an apartment in Sèvres for the remainder of the year. In the face of such circumstances, Sisley identified with the poor and was increasingly drawn to working sections of the Seine, where barges line the water’s edge rather than pleasure boats. In this snowy winter scene, which Sisley depicted with a fairly limited palette, an idle laborer with his hands shoved into his pockets walks along a tall fence on a deserted quay. The Pont de Sèvres, spanning the icy river Seine, is in the background.