Alfred Sisley, British Impressionist landscape painter who lived and worked in France, was one of the founders of French Impressionism.
Alfred Sisley was born on October 30th 1839 in Paris, to well-to-do English parents William Sisley and Felicia Sell. Between 1857 and 1861, he resided in London where his parents expected him to study commerce.
Unable to stifle his desire to paint, Alfred returned to Paris in 1862 to study at the Atelier Gleyre under Swiss artist Charles Gabriel Gleyre. His parents supported him and sent him a steady allowance. There, he met Renoir, Monet and Bazille, and together they painted landscapes en ‘plein air’ (outdoors) in the forest of Fontainebleau. Sisley’s landscapes of the Sienne, Loire, and Thames Rivers focused on light in the clouds and reflections. Using a more innovative approach, he managed to capture the transient effects of sunlight on canvas, producing paintings of magnificent colors. The young artist exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1866 as a pupil of Corot, doing so again in 1868 and 1870. During this time, he began a relationship that would last thirty years with Marie Louise Adélaïde Eugéne Lescouezec.
During the Franco-Prussian war, Alfred Sisley traveled to London where he was introduced by Pissarro to art dealer Durand-Ruel, who invited him to become a member of his stable. While he was discovering himself as an artist, his family was on the verge of losing all their money and possessions to the Prussian army who overran the family’s estate in Bougival, west of Paris. Without his parent’s financial support, the artist remained in desperate poverty for many years.
Influenced in the 1870s by artists such as J. M. W. Turner and John Constable, Alfred Sisley produced a remarkable series of landscapes of Argenteuil, where he was then residing. His association with Impressionists produced such paintings as‘The Bridge at Argenteuil’ (1872), later bought by Manet.
Towards the end of the decade, Monet’s influence inspired Sisley to create a series of landscape paintings of areas around Paris, including Marly, Bougival and Louveciennes. Although he was somewhat overshadowed by Monet, his passion to paint the sky soon dominated his paintings and became his signature feature. His concentration on landscape subjects was the most consistent of any of the Impressionists.
Alfred Sisley now saw himself as a full-time professional painter and part of the Impressionist group, exhibiting with them in 1874, 1876, 1877 and 1882. From 1880 onward, he focused on portraying the banks of the Seine and the Loing at Saint-Mammès and Sablon and Moret-sur-Loing. Some of those works include ‘The Canal du Loing at St. Mammes’ (1885), ‘Matrat's Boatyard, Moret-sur-Loing’ (1883)’, ‘Moret-sur-Loing’ (1891), and ‘Courtyard of Farm at St. Mammes’ (1884). His paintings were exhibited at the Durand-Ruel galleries in Paris and New York.
During his lifetime, Sisley’s career never brought about the fame or financial security he was due. The failure of his retrospective exhibition at Georges Petit’s in 1897 was an especially hard blow to the artist, and he left for the south of England. From May to October, he stayed at Penarth, a seaside resort near Cardiff, and painted views of rocky seashores including ‘Bristol Channel from Penarth, Evening’(1897). That same year, he finally married Marie Louise, who had given birth to a son Pierre in 1867 and a daughter Jeanne in 1869.
On January 29, 1899, at fifty-nine years old, Alfred Sisley died in his home in Moret-sur-Loing from throat cancer. Although his work attracted little attention in his lifetime, its importance has since been recognized. Some of his more popular works include ‘La Seine à Bougival’ (1872), ‘Flood at Port-Marly’ (1876), and ‘Street in Moret’ (1888).