Flooding early in the spring of 1872 drew Sisley to Port–Marly, a village on the Seine near Louveciennes, the artist's home. The water here is calm and human activity is minimal. Rather than dramatic or picturesque incident, the artist's attention was engaged by purely visual effects of rain–laden clouds and water–covered streets. The tranquility of the painting and the directness and simplicity of Sisley's observation are qualities derived from Corot, whom Sisley had met in the 1860s.
The composition is traditional. The Restaurant à Saint Nicolas at the left and the erect pylon on the right and its reflection establish a stable foreground and frame an opening at the center toward a stand of trees and distant hillside. The artist's handling, however, distinguishes Flood at Port-Marly as an impressionist work. Painted quickly on the scene, probably in a single session, Sisley used muted tones of a wide spectrum of hues, applying them in a thin layer of supple brushstrokes which Sisley varied in response to individual components of the landscape. The distinctive nuanced tonality and animated surface of this painting are hallmarks of the best of Sisley's mature work.
Sisley painted the floods at Port–Marly again in 1876, echoing this 1872 composition in two virtually identical works. Such repetition was unusual for Sisley and suggests that he found the motif congenial and this painting successful.
lower left: Sisley.72
Marie-Albert, vicomte de Curel [1827-1908], Paris; by descent in his family to Mlle de Curel, Paris; (de Curel sale, Palais Galliéra, Paris, 21 June 1961, no. D); purchased by (Hector Brame, Paris) for Mr. Paul Mellon, Upperville, Virginia; gift 1985 to NGA.
- Exhibition of French Art 1200-1900, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1932, no. 525
- Die Isle de France und ihre Maler. Nationalgalerie,, Berlin, 1963
- French Paintings from the Collections of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon and Mrs. Mellon Bruce, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1966, no. 73, repro
- Gifts to the Nation: Selected Acquisitions from the Collections of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1986, unnumbered checklist
- Da Corot a Monet. La sinfonia della natura., Complesso Monumentale del Vittoriano, Rome, 2010, no. 91, repro.
- Eblouissants reflets: cent chefs-d'oeuvre impressionistes, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen, 2013, no. 113, repro.
- Intimate Impressionism from the National Gallery of Art, Museo dell'Ara Pacis Augustae, Rome (exhibition title in this venue: Impressionist Gems); Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; McNay Art Museum, San Antonio; Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, Tokyo, Seattle Art Museum, 2013-2015.
- Goldwater, Robert. "The Glory that was France." Art News 65 (March 1966):86.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 191, repro.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 381, no. 314, color repro.