Alfred Sisley (30 October 1839 – 29 January 1899) 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 deviated into figure painting only rarely and, unlike Renoir and
Pissarro, found that Impressionism fulfilled his artistic needs.
Among his important works are a series of paintings of the River Thames, mostly
around Hampton Court, executed in 1874, and landscapes depicting places in or near
Moret-sur-Loing. The notable paintings of the Seine and its bridges in the former
suburbs of Paris are like many of his landscapes, characterized by tranquility, in
pale shades of green, pink, purple, dusty blue and cream. Over the years Sisley's
power of expression and color intensity increased.
Sisley was born in Paris to affluent English parents. His father William Sisley
was in the silk business, and his mother Felicia Sell was a cultivated music
connoisseur. 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. Beginning in 1862 he studied at 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.
In 1868 his paintings were accepted at the Salon, but the exhibition did not
bring him any financial or critical success, and neither did any of the subsequent
exhibitions. The Franco-Prussian War began in 1870, and as a result, Sisley’s
father’s business failed. The painter’s sole means of support became the sale of
his works. For the remainder of his life, he would live in poverty, for his
paintings only rose significantly in monetary value after his death. Occasionally,
however, Sisley would be backed up by his patrons: this allowed him, among other
things, to make a few brief trips to England.
Until 1880, Sisley lived and worked in the countryside west of Paris; then
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. In 1881 Sisley made one more brief
voyage to England.