Path of the Impressionists: Louveciennes

Many prominent Impressionist painters lived or kept summer homes in the western suburbs of Paris in the late 1800’s. Berthe Morrisot, Mary Cassatt, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Claude Monet lived or painted in the area.

It is easy to reach this area by train or rental car. I prefer renting a car (with GPS, bien sûr) so I can hit several different cities in the same day. You can easily drive from Chatou to Bougival, Marly-le-Roi, Rueil-Malmaison and Louveciennes in one day. Click here for another post I wrote about a day trip to Chatou, the site where Renoir painted Luncheon of the Boating Party.

Alfred Sisley lived in Marly-le-Roi, a close-in suburb just west of Paris in the 1870s. Marly-le-Roi was once the home of Louis XIV’s summer palace, but it was destroyed during the French Revolution. Louis XIV built a huge aqueduct called the Machine de Marly, which brought water up from the Seine to the chateaux of Versailles and Marly. The machine is no longer standing but the basins remain.

Alfred Sisley painted The Chemin de la Machine, Louveciennes (Musée D’Orsay) in 1873. You can find a sign commemorating the very spot where Sisley’s easel stood. It is part of a tourist initiative called the Pays des Impressionistes. Today, the road is still called Rue de la Machine, easily found on Google Maps.



The scene of Sisley’s Chemin de la Machine, Louveciennes (1873). We might have electrical street lights and more mature trees, but the slope of the street is still recognizable.

If you’re like me, it’s inspiring to stand in the place of a famous painting. I rarely bring along my own easel because I’m not an en plein aire painter, but I’m still inspired when I get back to my own art studio. I gain a lot from the experience, studying how a good painter selects a scene and creates a good sense of composition out of what would other wise be a random slice of life. It is no accident that these paintings still make an impression on us more than 125 years later.

Making art out of the randomness of life. The challenge and calling of an artist.


On Sisley’s Trail Outside Paris

The Bridge at Moret, Alred Sisley (1893), Musée d'Orsay, Paris

The Bridge at Moret, Alfred Sisley (1893), Musée d’Orsay, Paris

On a recent trip to my neighborhood dry cleaners, I spotted this picture on a calendar thumbtacked to the wall. I snuck behind the desk to see it up close, and sure enough, it was a Sisley set in Moret. “I’ve been there!” (I kind of shrieked – the dry cleaning lady smiled indulgently.)

Moret-sur-Loing is one of the art villages and colonies I visited outside of Paris. Last year, I took two separate trip to the villages near the Fountainbleu Forest, including Barbizon, Grez, Moret-sur-Loing and Thomery. They’re all about an hour’s drive from Paris, and they make for a wonderful artsy day or weekend trip. I’ve previously written about visiting the historic art colony of Grez-sur-Loing here, and my tour of Rosa Bonheur’s Studio in Thomery here.

Moret-sur-Loing was the home of the Impressionist painter Alfred Sisley the last ten years before his death in 1899. Sisley also lived in the nearby town of Veneux-les-Sablons from 1883 to 1889. Walking through these towns is like stepping into a Sisley painting. Here is a Google Map of the various Sisley sightseeing locations in and near Moret and les Sablons.

Sisley’s backstory is interesting. He was from a wealthy British family and moved to Paris to study art in the 1860s. He took classes at the at the Académie Suisse, where he met Monet, Renoir and Bazille. They would become good friends and before long, they would develop their bold new Impressionist style. Sisley was able to rely on his family’s wealth to subsidize his art career until his father lost his fortune in the Franco-Prussian War. After that, Sisley became another starving artist just trying to get by.

After living in the Batignolles neighborhood of Paris through the 1860s and 70s, Sisley retreated to the village of Moret, where he lived a quiet painterly life with his common-law wife Eugénie (Marie) Lesouezec (they would not legally marry until 1897) and two children. Sisley died of throat cancer in 1899, but not before creating over 900 paintings, many of which depicted landscapes around the village of Moret.

Sisley’s paintings did not sell well during his lifetime. We now know that Sisley sold many of his paintings to local Moret townspeople at bargain prices just to pay the rent. Now, of course, a Sisley would sell in the millions.

This has all led to very curious consequences. According to this article from The Guardian, experts believe that locals in Moret are hoarding Sisley paintings that their ancestors may have purchased or bartered for many years ago. They’re hiding the pieces in attics or bank vaults because they’re afraid they will owe exorbitant inheritance taxes. It is possible that there are over 500 original Sisley paintings that have yet to be identified and authenticated. This in turn creates a ripe environment for forgery and art fraud: “Voila! Quelle suprise! An unknown Sisley in the attic!”

How fun to wander through the streets and pathways of Moret, to see the same sites that Sisley did over 125 years ago, and wonder what treasures might hidden in the attics and cellars of the longtime residents of this village.


The bridge at Moret-sur-Loing on a gray day in 2011.

The bridge at Moret-sur-Loing on a gray day in 2011.

Les Amis d'Alfred Sisley: the Friends of Alfred Sisley, an art association that offers tourist information about Sisley. 24 rue Grande, Moret-sur-Loing.

Les Amis d’Alfred Sisley: the Friends of Alfred Sisley, an art association that offers tourist information about Sisley.
24 rue Grande, Moret-sur-Loing.

Just a mile from Moret along the Loing River, where the Loing meets the Seine, is the town of Veneux-les-Sablons. Sisley lived here from 1883-1889 and painted many scenes along down by the river. If you’re persistent, you can find some of the scenes for yourself, marked by a sign and a reproduction of his work. I marked them on this Google Map.


The sign along the Seine that indicates where Sisley painted Le Village De Champagne au voucher du Soleil (1885)


The light might have gotten pretty dim in this photo, but you can still make out the town of Champagne-sur-Seine across the river, much like it was in Sisley’s painting.


The path along the Seine as painted in “Les Petits Prés au Printemps – By (1880)


The sign indicating where Sisley painted “Les Petits Prés au Printemps – By” (1880)

These signs might be hard to find without GPS. They're along a small little pathway called Chemin des Roches Courteuax that runs along the Seine.

The signs might be hard to find without GPS. They’re along a small little pathway called Chemin des Roches Courteuax that runs along the Seine.

One final picture, a portrait of Sisley and his future wife Marie in 1868, a perfectly bourgeois couple who had not yet lost their family fortune in the Franco-Prussian War.

Renoir, Alfred Sisley and His Wife (1868)

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley and His Wife (1868), Wallraf-Richardz Museum, Cologne, Germany