From 1883 to 1889 Sisley lived in Les Sablons (also known as Veneux-les-Sablons), a village situated at the junction of the Seine and Loing rivers on the southern fringe of the forest of Fontainbleau. A path at Les Sablons 1883 is one of only a handful of paintings that seems to have been painted in the studio rather than en plein air. Sisley has organised the picture around a central avenue into the picture plane, a simple composition much favoured by the artist. The grassy path through the village is likely to be the route he took each time he went to the butcher or on a field trip to paint. Unusually, in this painting he has given some prominence to the figures: a man in his backyard chats with a passer by, a telling aside on the intimacy and domesticity of village life.
Sisley animates the painting with sparkling brushwork, contrasting areas of thin paint with thickly worked passages to respond to different textures and features of the scene. The swell of sky is built with broad brushstrokes that meld cerulean blue with white interlaced with whiplash whites and yellows. It is not surprising to learn that the artist moved to Les Sablons 'where the air would be better.' He has matched the zest of execution with a simple, nuanced palette to create a sensitive, fragile atmosphere.
A path at Les Sablons is small enough and was painted quickly enough to be counted as an actual 'impression'. It is interesting, however, that Sisley tended to work out his compositions first in drawings, which he carefully numbered in a notebook. It seems that Sisley wanted to know precisely how to organise his compositions before beginning to paint, thus freeing himself from making decisions while he worked and enabling him to respond with real immediacy to the chromatic and gestural qualities of a motif.
adapted from Richard R. Brettell, in An Impressionist Legacy: The Collection of Sara Lee Corporation and in Monet to Moore: The Millennium Gift of Sara Lee Corporation by Lucina Ward
- now held in the Louvre; the drawing for this painting is reproduced in Monet to Moore: The Millennium Gift of Sara Lee Corporation, p.176
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010