Sisley, whose parents were British, grew up in Paris and met Renoir and Monet at art school in 1862. Very few of Sisley’s 1860s works are known today, since the artist lost nearly everything during the invasion of France by Prussian troops in 1870. Drying Nets is one of the earliest Impressionist paintings. It belongs to a small group of landscapes executed in early 1872 at Villeneuve-la-Garenne, a village on the Seine just north of Paris. Around that time Sisley was staying at the home of Monet, who settled after the war in the riverside village of Argenteuil. Monet introduced Sisley to the influential art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, who during 1872–73 bought fifty-nine paintings from him, nearly his entire output, including Drying Nets.
Drying Nets portrays a bridge over the Seine to the island of Saint-Denis—but, in the spirit of Barbizon landscape tradition, the weather and the everyday activities of ordinary people have greater importance in the painting than the specific locale. For example, in terms of subject matter and composition, river scenes by Charles-François Daubigny served as models for Sisley, Monet, and their colleagues throughout the 1860s and 1870s. But there is nothing traditional about Sisley’s style in Drying Nets. His brushwork is altogether stenographic, with short choppy strokes to render the grassy bank, and more uniform dashlike strokes for the textures of water and atmosphere in flux. The winding narrow path alongside which Sisley has staked his portable easel suggests that he came upon the scene accidentally during the course of a riverside stroll.