France 1839 – 1899
[Le pont de Moret] 1893
oil on canvas
canvas 73.5 (h) x 92.5 (w) cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris , Bequest of Enriqueta Alsop in the name of Eduardo Mollard 1972
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
In Sisley’s time the towns of the Seine-et-Marne region were busy with local commerce: barges on the canal, a flour and tanning mill at Moret, boat-yards around Saint-Mammès, orchards, gardens and farms at Les Sablons. Sisley visited the area late in 1879, looking for an inexpensive place to live, and came to know it intimately. Veneux-Nadon, seventy-five kilometres from Paris, was his home from 1880; then he lived at Moret, and Les Sablons for six years, before returning to Moret in 1889. Tobias Smollett described Moret-sur-Loing as a ‘very paltry’ place but nineteenth-century guidebooks enthuse over its ‘commanding position on the Loing, its ramparts and gateway, its huge ruined donjon and the beauties of its Gothic church’. 1
Bridges were a favoured subject and compositional device for Sisley and the Pont de Moret provided the impetus for many works. He produced his first views of it in autumn 1887 and spring 1888, while based at Les Sablons, and several dramatic compositions show the bridge and mill under snow in 1890.2 He varied his views of Moret, often centring his compositions on the mill with the church of Notre-Dame behind it,and showing the other span of the bridge leading into the town through the Porte de Bourgogne. In 1891 he painted further down the Loing River, from either bank, showing the townscape framed by, or through, a row of poplars. The following year he varied his motif through a sequence depicting the same locations in the morning light and at sunset. Sisley seemed unable to resist scenes in which there was water to offer reflections, and riverbanks for constantly changing activities.3
By the time Sisley painted this canvas, he had clearly absorbed the elements of the surrounding landscape, exploited through a highly coloured, densely structured composition of sky and clouds, bricks and mortar, water and reflections. He has positioned himself closer to the bridge, providing a dramatic lead-in to the work as it sweeps from lower-left of the canvas to the mill at centre. The picture plane is neatly bisected, the upper section of sky punctuated by the partially obscured church tower, mill and poplars. Sisley’s landscapes are rarely peopled, at least not in the overt way of his contemporaries. Rather than portraying promenading couples or boating parties, the people in Sisley’s paintings are presented as part of their surrounds, incidental in both purpose and scale. The figures in Moret Bridge merge into the scene as naturally as the clouds in the sky, or the reflections in the water below.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
From Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and beyond Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay exhibition book, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
- Richard Shone, Sisley, London: Phaidon Press 1999, p. 159.
- François Daulte, Alfred Sisley: catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre peint, Lausanne: Durand-Ruel 1959.
- Shone, pp. 51 and 144.