Fine Artists: Alfred Sisley English Impressionist 1839-1899

Alfred Sisley "snow at louveciennes" painting Alfred Sisley was an English Impressionist landscape painter who was born and spent most of his life in France. Sisley is recognized as perhaps the most consistent of the Impressionists, never deviating into figure painting or finding that the movement did not fulfill his artistic needs. Alfred Sisley's works can be distinguished from those of his colleagues by their softly harmonious values. His early style was much influenced by Camille Corot, and his restricted and delicate palette continued to reflect something of Corot's silvery tonalities. His snow scapes, such as "Snow at Louveciennes" (shown here) are particularly effective.

Alfred Sisley was born in Paris as the son of rich English parents on October 30, 1839. His father William Sisley was in the silk business, and his mother, Felicia Sell, was a cultivated music connoisseur. At the age of 18, after his basic education, Alfred Sisley was sent back to England to enhance his knowledge of the English language and to become a successful businessman like his father. Alfred Sisley however took the opportunity to study the works of John Constable and William Turner. Alfred Sisley wasn't attracted to the business-world and returned to Paris at age 23. His father supported him and decided to send him to the École des Beaux-Arts, where he studied under Charles Gleyre.

Alfred Sisley became acquainted with Frédéric Bazille, Claude Monet, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Together they would paint landscapes en plein air (in the open air) in order to realistically capture the transient effects of sunlight. This approach, innovative at the time, resulted in paintings more colorful and more broadly painted than the public was accustomed to seeing. Consequently, Sisley and his friends initially had few opportunities to exhibit or sell their work. In 1866,Alfred Sisley began a relationship with Eugénie Lesouezec (also known as Marie Lescouezec), a Breton living in Paris, with whom he had two children.

"Avenue of Chestnut Trees near La Celle Saint-Cloud"  painting by Alfred SisleyAlfred Sisley's style at this time was deeply influenced by Courbet and Daubigny, and when he first exhibited at the Salon in 1867 it was as the pupil of Corot. By this time he had started to frequent the Café Guerbois, and was becoming more deeply influenced by the notions which were creating Impressionism.

Sisley's landscape at the Salon of 1868, "Avenue of Chestnut Trees near La Celle Saint-Cloud "(shown here), demonstrates an acquaintance with the soft tonality of Corot and the dramatic massing of Courbet, both of whom were to remain influential.

During Franco-Prussian War Alfred Sisley lost all his possessions when the Prussian army overran the family’s estate in Bougival, west of Paris. After the war his father was ruined, so the artist was left in desperate poverty for many years. Of the artists who exhibited at the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874, it was Alfred Sisley who was the purest landscape painter. At the first Impressionist exhibition, Sisley exhibited six landscapes (only five appeared in the catalogue) with little critical or financial success .

"Molesey Weir, Hampton Court" painting by Alfred SisleyAfter the exhibition Alfred Sisley returned to England, this time under the patronage of the French baritone Jean-Baptiste Faure, from July to October 1874. In London Alfred Sisley painted a series of canvases at Hampton Court which are remarkably fresh and spontaneous. "Molesey Weir, Hampton Court" (shown here) is compositionally daring with the posts of the weir creating a system of rigid verticals which holds the picture together and leads the viewer's eye into the picture space in no less a contrived way than Poussin might have done. Yet it appears relaxed and informal with thick white impasto, and the figures of the naked bathers are executed with great economy of means.

Towards the end of the decade Monet was beginning to have a considerable influence on Alfred Sisley, and a series of landscape paintings of the area around Paris, including Arly, Bougival and Louveciennes (shown at top of page), shows the way in which his dominant and evident lyricism still respects the demands of the subject-matter. In 1880 Sisley and his family moved to a small village near Moret-sur-Loing, close to the forest of Fontainebleau where the painters of the Barbizon school had worked earlier in the century.

Here, as art historian Anne Poulet has said, "the gentle landscapes with their constantly changing atmosphere were perfectly attuned to his talents". Unlike Monet, he never sought the drama of the rampaging ocean or the brilliantly colored scenery of the Côte d'Azur At the end of is life, Alfred Sisley was very sick with cancer. It was only then that he started to get some recognition for the work he had done. Alfred Sisley died at the age of 59, January 29, 1899 in Moret-sur-Loing.
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Alfred Sisley
French Impressionist