Snow at Louveciennes (1878) by Alfred Sisley
Interpretation of Impressionist Landscape with Snow

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Snow at Louveciennes
By Sisley.
Regarded as one of the
greatest modern paintings of
the nineteenth century.

Snow at Louveciennes (1878)


Analysis of Snow at Louveciennes
Explanation of Other Impressionist Landscapes


Name: Snow at Louveciennes (1878)
Artist: Alfred Sisley (1839-1899)
Medium: Oil painting on canvas
Genre: Landscape painting
Movement: French Impressionism
Location: Musee d'Orsay, Paris

For an interpretation of other pictures from the 19th and 20th centuries, see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).


See: How to Appreciate Art.


Aside from Claude Monet (1840-1926), who devoted his whole life to mastering the capture of momentary impressions of light and colour, and Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), whose affinity for nature went hand in hand with his respect for the working man, Alfred Sisley was the only artist to remain devoted to Impressionist landscape painting en plein air. Perhaps because of the extreme privations of his personal life, it is his Impressionist paintings above all others, that capture the serenity of the countryside. Not unlike works by his illustrious predecessors Camille Corot, Sisley's landscapes are always filled with a subtle silence and restraint. Snow at Louveciennes is a perfect example of this and demonstrates why Sisley is now recognized as one of the best landscape artists of the late 19th century.

For some of Sisley's finest plein-air painting, see the sparkling waterscape Canal St Martin (1870); the summer landscape Chemin de la Machine, Louveciennes (1873); and the foggy country scene in Misty Morning (1874).

Analysis of Snow at Louveciennes by Alfred Sisley

The snow is a subject which lends itself well to poetic interpretation. The Impressionists made this subject their own and it was often the principal motive in their researches. It was not Corot who set the example, for he did not care for winter scenes; it was Gustave Courbet, who had fallen in love with this season of the year, and painted many aspects of it in his native Jura, buried in winter beneath a thick coating of snow. But Courbet painted thick snow, oblivious of the multiple reflections to be found in it. Jongkind, following up the frozen canal pictures of his Dutch ancestors, painted frozen landscapes. Claude Monet painted snow scenes like The Cart, Road under Snow at Honfleur (1865, Musee d'Orsay). Then he painted La Debacle (1880, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, New Zealand). Pissarro and Sisley many times depicted perspectives of roads covered with thick or melting snow.



For Sisley in particular, the countryside in winter had a real attraction, as his solitary temperament was ideally suited to capturing the sadness and desolation of nature. In Snow at Louveciennes, the snow has just fallen and is still immaculate, with no footprints marring it. It is like cotton wool or felt. Only some tree trunks and the silhouette of a woman walking away mark this unreal decor. The road leads straight into the background. The hill in the background is a white stump in a white far distance, until a line of tall trees mix their grey-white hue with the huge sky blocked with snow and uniformly pale. The world is buried in a great white silence. Buried, but also bleak. Was Snow at Louveciennes perhaps a reflection of Sisley's anxieties. Note the muted palette; the single, lonely figure; the dying afternoon light. There is a sense of lonely emptiness about the painting.

Sisley enjoyed painting snow scenes because it allowed him to study the slight variations in the light, and to experiment with different colour tones and shades. By adding tiny touches of colour to the canvas, for example, the land appears to radiate with bluish or pinkish reflections rather than simply white. It is no doubt paintings of this quality that led the distinguished art historian Kenneth Clark to describe Sisley as one of the few artists capable of creating "a perfect moment of Impressionism."

NOTE: For the story of French Impressionism and the group of avant-garde artists involved in it, please see our 10-part series, beginning with: Impressionism: Origins, Influences.

Explanation of Other Impressionist Landscapes

Poppy Field (Argenteuil) (1873) by Monet.
Musee d'Orsay.

The House of the Hanged Man (1873) by Paul Cezanne.
Musee d'Orsay.

Vegetable Garden with Trees in Blossom, Spring, Pontoise (1877) Pissarro.
Musee d'Orsay.

Path Leading Through Tall Grass (1877) by Renoir.
Musee d'Orsay.

The Red Roofs (1877) by Pissarro.
Musee d'Orsay.

The Bridge at Maincy (1879) by Paul Cezanne.
Musee d'Orsay.


• For an explanation of other Impressionist landscapes, see: Homepage.

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