Five Sisley paintings were sold at the November 1 Christie’s Impression and Modern Art Evening Sale in New York at the Rockefeller Plaza, but chances are, you’ve probably never heard of the works. After an extensive search on the internet not one media organisation or art website even bothered to list them, suffice to say that the Sisley paintings sold well. Such is the ignominy endured by arguably the least recognised Impressionist landscape painter. We hunted down the list of Sisley works, noting that the total of five Sisley artworks was sold for a value of $8,544,500 million. The cheapest was Lot 318, Paysage de Printemps--Chemin aux environs de Moret-sur Loing, which sold for $794,500, while the most expensive was La fenaison--Après-midi de juin, 1887, a painting sold by the Art Institute of Chicago for $3,330,500, while the average price was around $1 million.

Why was La fenaison--Après-midi de juin significantly more expensive? For a Sisley works it is unconventional due to its higher viewing point and wider panoramic view. The artist was known to set his easel down commonly at the river bank; this time, however, Sisley chose a grassy meadow higher up, choosing instead to focus on shrubs and tall trees rather than his traditional subject, the river and riverbank. A lone human dots the foreground between two points of foliage with his clothes reflecting the blue hues of the summer sky and distant hills. Sisley’s attention to grass is shown with his rendering of the middle portion of the painting: differing horizontal layers of a dull grass can be seen, below the yellowish hues of the more sunburnt variety. As with all Sisley paintings much attention is paid towards the sky – about 66 per cent of the painting features the blue summer sky scuttled with the bubbly cumulous concoctions of Mother Nature, evidence of the strength of the painting in plain air technique.

Sisley scholars have determined the scene was probably painted from edge of the Forest of Fontainebleau near Les Sablons, looking east toward the Loing or north toward the Seine. Quite a lot of science and research has gone into this. By cross checking letters, journal entries and government records, it is known that Sisley lived at Veneux-Nadon during the time, and favoured the scenes near the hamlet of By at the curve immediately west of Saint-Mammès. Historians believe that after the Sisleys moved to Les Sablons in 1883, Alfred developed an immediate fancy for the meadows further to the south and closer to his new home. His home, of course, was now more in the countryside than any of his previous abodes.

This observation has led scholars to term these cluster of Sisley paintings as his commentary on the idyllic and relatively boring (for city folks) existence of the French peasants. As R. Shone noted in his work Sisley (1992, London, p 142): “The paintings reveal in a more tangible way an increasing solitariness. In the previous decade, at Marly and Louveciennes, there is a continual sense of humming life beyond the edge of the canvas... But in many paintings made at Les Sablons, the note is one of withdrawn simplicity, meditative and undramatic. This is country life... in which the only ‘events’ are a turn in the road or a fallen tree, a local woman on a path or a man standing in a field - the only reason for his presence being the patch of blue provided by his smock against the sunlit earth”. Hear hear!