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Alfred Sisley

Alfred Sisley

French impressionist painter
1839 - 1899


Alfred Sisley, french landscape painter and one of the creators of the French Impressionist movement.

Sisley was born in Paris on October 30, 1839 to bourgeois British parents. After his schooldays, his father, a merchant trading with the southern states of America, sent him to London for a business career, but finding this unpalatable, Sisley returned to Paris in 1862 with the aim of becoming an artist.

Avenue of Chestnut Trees, 1867
Avenue of Chestnut Trees, 1867
Southampton Art Gallery.

His family gave him every support and his father arranged for the twenty-three year old to enter the studio of the history painter Charles Gleyre, where he met Renoir, Monet and Bazille. Though none of the four felt a particular affinity for the highly academic Gleyre, it was young Monet's personality-clash with the master that resulted in the group leaving the studio and setting out on their own.

Inseparable for a time, the group traveled and painted together. Sisley spent some time painting in Fontainebleau, at Chailly with Monet, Bazille and Renoir, and later at Marlotte with Renoir. Sisley's early style was deeply influenced by Corot, Courbet and Daubigny whom he met while working around Paris with his companions. When he first exhibited at the Salon in 1867 it was as the pupil of Corot.

The Seine at Bougival, 1873
The Seine at Bougival, 1873
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

By that time, however, he had started to frequent the Café Guerbois, and was becoming more deeply influenced by the notions which were creating Impressionism. By 1870, he had adopted the short rapid impressionist brushstroke and like Monet remained faithful to the technique throughout his career. He was interested in capturing the movement of foliage, the shimmer of water, and the texture of cloud-filled skies.

During the Franco-Prussian war and the period of the Commune (1870-1871), he went to London where he exhibited and was introduced to Durand-Ruel by Pissarro, becoming part of that dealer's stable. He returned for an exhibition in London in 1974.

Upon the death of his father in 1872, Sisley learned that the family business lay in ruins. Having been financially supported by his family, Sisley never had to worry about having to earn his living as an artist. For the first time, he was forced to paint with a commercial mind-set in order to support his family.

The Bridge at Argenteuil, 1872
The Bridge at Argenteuil, 1872
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art

He now was a full-time professional painter and part of the Impressionist group, exhibiting with them in 1874, 1876, 1877 and 1882. At L'Exposition des Indépendants, the first Impressionist show at Nadar's, Sisley exposed no less than twenty-one canvases. His work had by this time achieved complete independance from the early influences that had affected him. In the 1870s he produced a remarkable series of landscapes of Argenteuil, where he was living, one of which, The Bridge at Argenteuil (1872; Brooks Memorial Gallery, Memphis, USA) was bought by Manet.

Flood at Pont-Marly, 1876
Flood at Pont-Marly, 1876
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Towards the end of the decade Monet was beginning to have a considerable influence on him. A serie of landscape paintings of the area around Paris, including Marly, Bougival and Louveciennes (1876, Floods at Port-Marly, Musée d'Orsay), shows the way in which his dominant and evident lyricism still respects the demands of the subject-matter.

Snow at Véneux-Nadon 1880
Snow at Véneux-Nadon 1880
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

From his early admiration for Corot he retained a passionate interest in the sky, which nearly always dominates his paintings, and also in the effects of snow, the two interests often combining to create a strangely dramatic effect (1880; Snow at Véneux; Musée d'Orsay).

Eglise de Moret, 1894
Eglise de Moret, 1894
Musée du Petit Palais, Paris

Primarily a landscapist, Sisley preferred the countryside around the Ile de-France with its unique and subtle beauty in all seasons. To this he brought a soft, muted palette with warm greens, blue-greens, pale yellows, and clear blues predominating. Sisley in 1876, moved southward to paint landscapes around Moret-sur-Loing, south of the Forest of Fontainebleau.

In the 1880's Sisley began to sell more of his work, with the help of the dealer Durand-Ruel, who put on a successful exhibition in New York, where there was a new interest in the Impressionists. It was only towards the end of his life, that he received something approaching the recognition he deserved.

In 1899, sending for Monet, who hurried to his side, he died in Moret-sur-Loing of a cancer of the throat, at the age of sixty. Within a year his canvases were fetching high prices.


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