Alfred Sisley

Alfred Sisley was an Impressionist landscape painter who was born and spent most of his life in France, but retained British citizenship. He was the most consistent of the Impressionists in his dedication to painting landscape en plein air (i.e., outdoors). He never deviated into figure painting and, unlike Renoir and Pissarro, never found that Impressionism did not fulfill his artistic needs.

Sisley was born in Paris to affluent British parents. In 1857 at the age of 18, Sisley was sent to London to study for a career in business, but he abandoned it after four years and returned to Paris in 1861. From 1862, he studied at the Paris École des Beaux-Arts within the atelier of Swiss artist Marc-Charles-Gabriel Gleyre, where he became acquainted with Frédéric Bazille, Claude Monet, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Together they would paint landscapes en plein air rather than in the studio, in order to realistically capture the transient effects of sunlight. This approach, innovative at the time, resulted in paintings more colorful and more broadly. His first landscape paintings are sombre, coloured with dark browns, greens, and pale blues. Consequently, Sisley and his friends initially had few opportunities to exhibit or sell their work. Their works were usually rejected by the jury of the most important art exhibition in France, the annual Salon.

In 1866, Sisley began a relationship with Eugénie Lesouezec with whom he had two children. In 1868, his paintings were accepted at the Salon, but the exhibition did not bring him financial or critical success. In 1870 the Franco-Prussian War began, and as a result Sisley's father's business failed and the painter's sole means of support became the sale of his works. For the remainder of his life he would live in poverty, as his paintings did not rise significantly in monetary value until after his death.

During his life, he made a few trip to Britain, the first one occurred in 1874 where he did a serie of nearly twenty paintings of the Upper Thames near Molesey. In 1880, Sisley left Paris for a small village close to the forest of Fontainebleau. Here the gentle landscapes with their constantly changing atmosphere were perfectly attuned to his talents.

In 1881 and 1897 Sisley made other voyages to Britain. The following year Sisley applied for French citizenship, but was refused. A second application was made and supported by a police report, but illness intervened, and Sisley remained British till his death. The painter died on 29 January 1899 of throat cancer in Moret-sur-Loing at the age of 59, a few months after the death of his wife.

Little is known about Sisley's relationship with the paintings of J. M. W. Turner and John Constable, which he may have seen in London, but some have suggested that these artists may have influenced his development as an Impressionist painter, as may have Gustave Courbet and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. An amazingly large number of fake Sisleys have been discovered. Sisley produced some 900 oil paintings, some 100 pastels and many other drawings.

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