During his stay in Paris, between March 1886 and February 1888, Van Gogh lived with his brother Theo in the north of the city: first in rue de Laval, then in rue Lepic from June 1886. Unlike other Impressionists who, in summer, were able to afford even a modest holiday in the country, Vincent, by choice as much as necessity, sought out locations near to where he lived. This was the case with Asnières, a town situated on the banks of the Seine, not far from the fortifications of Paris. There he painted and drew several views of bridges or, as here, of the restaurant de la Sirène.
Both style and subject had precedents in Impressionism, yet the painting moves away from them in some respects. It reflects the exterior appearance of the buildings more than the convivial pleasures enjoyed inside. The Impressionists, and above all Renoir, often depicted restaurants, but preferred to evoke the atmosphere inside them.
In The Restaurant de la SirèneVan Gogh increased the white brushstrokes, while still using the full richness of his palette. The painter Emile Bernard was without doubt alluding to a depiction of the restaurant de la Sirène when he recounted to Vollard that some of the works Van Gogh produced in Paris featured "smart restaurants decorated with coloured awnings and oleanders". Although this painting is one of his closest in style to Impressionism, Van Gogh increased the parallel hatching thus suggesting a more personal style that would soon reach its peak.