Michael Kennedy: Reflecting on Friendship and the Gift of Art

The Loing Canal at Moret c. 1892 was a painting by Alfred Sisley (d.1899), a French impressionist. The piece first drew my eye because it reminded me of the paths by the lakefront in my hometown of Chicago. It was on those walks that I made and strengthened many friendships; for instance, I met my current girlfriend of seven years on my first walk along the lakefront. Capturing the image of tall, flowing trees on a clear day, the image evokes a sense of revitalized life. Throughout the painting, the viewer can notice individuals walking along the paths on either side of the canal, some others appear to be interacting with nature by lying down in the grass or playing behind a tree. The longer you spend looking, the more individuals you can identify in the painting.

The painting’s strongest testimony to friendship is when it is contextualized with the background of Sisley’s fascination with the landscape. Accompanying the painting is a quote from a letter that Sisley sent to Adolphe Tavernier, a friend. “… at Moret, in this thickly wooded countryside with all its poplars, the water of the river Loing here, so beautiful, so transparent, so changeable… at Moret my art has undoubtedly developed most… I will not really leave this little place that is so picturesque.”

On first glance, the quote may be interpreted as glorifying Moret’s landscape and identifying its role in Sisley’s artistic development. However, the fact that Sisley reaches out to his friend and recreates this beautiful landscape through painting is so that they can “share” in appreciation of the space and each other. It is doubtful that Sisley wrote about Moret so that he could brag about his art, but rather he wishes he could enjoy it with his friend. The art itself is an act of friendship, allowing viewers to share in Sisley’s perspective of the beauty of Moret and to be reminded of the meaningful moments shared with friends.