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