Landscape painters are cursed by the monotony of the horizontal. Throughout the history of the genre, landscapes have been produced as horizontal compositions of varying dimensions, and only painters of landscapes as architectural decoration have been permitted to experiment with various formats. For Alfred Sisley, the purist among the impressionist landscape painters, this limitation was a particular problem. In 1880-1881, when this work was painted, his friend Pissarro was varying his steady diet of horizontal landscapes with a new series of vertical figure pictures. But Sisley, whose works were only beginning to sell regularly again after four years of comparative poverty, churned out horizontal landscapes, probably because they sold better. In fact, of the 149 canvases catalogued by Daulte from the years 1879 to 1881, only eleven are vertical (Daulte 1959a). It seems that the verticality of the Reves landscape was not a virtue, because after it was purchased from the painter by his friend and major dealer Paul Durand-Ruel in 1881, it failed to sell until 1950, when Emery Reves purchased the picture directly from Durand-Ruel's heirs.
The painting is boldly composed, with the right half devoted exclusively to form, while the left half is dominated by light and space. Thus, the right side is comparatively dark, with only holes of light squeezing through the foliage and architecture. By contrast, the left half is a palpitating visual field of sky and the reflective surface of the Seine, with occasional forms such as boats, a bridge, and the distant banks of the river to make the space legible. Like many paintings from this fascinating and under-studied period of Sisley's career, "Road along the Seine" is antipicturesque. The subject is not the road at all, but rather the messy and unkempt banks of the great river along the road. Furthermore, the picture does not represent this banal site in beautiful light, but on a gray, overcast day.
The date of the picture is in dispute; Daulte, the foremost authority on the work of Sisley, argues for a date of 1881, when the picture was acquired from the artist by Durand-Ruel (Daulte 1959a, no. 425). Emery Reves, in a 1974 letter to the English dealer David Somerset, claimed that a record photograph of the picture from the Durand-Ruel archives in his possession clearly dates it to 1879. Unfortunately, Reves's claim cannot be supported, as the photograph does not survive. The painting was made in Saint-Mammès, a village along the Seine in which Sisley worked extensively in 1880 but never visited in 1879. A masterful horizontal landscape dated 1880 and painted at the same site is in the Sara Lee Collection in Chicago, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, possesses a view of the identical road and group of buildings that is also from 1880. Thus, both Daulte and Reves were wrong, and the evidence allows us to date the picture conclusively to 1880.
"Impressionist Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture from the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection," page 75