Alfred Sisley, French Impressionist Landscape Painter

albert sisley regatta at molesey
Regatta at Molesey (1874). Hulton Fine Art / Getty Images

Alfred Sisley (October 30, 1839 - January 29, 1899) was a French impressionist painter who straddled British and French national identification. Although he received far less praise than some of his contemporaries, he was one of the key artists who began the French impressionist movement.

Fast Facts: Alfred Sisley

  • Born: October 30, 1839 in Paris, France
  • Died: January 29, 1899 in Moret-sur-Loing, France
  • Profession: Painter
  • Spouse: Eugenie Lesouezec
  • Children: Pierre and Jeanne
  • Artistic Movement: Impressionism
  • Selected Works: "The Bridge in Argenteuil" (1872), "Regatta at Molesey" (1874), "Barges on the Loing at Saint-Mammes" (1885)
  • Notable Quote: "The animation of the canvas is one of the hardest problems of painting."

Early Life and Training

Born in Paris, France, the son of wealthy British parents, Alfred Sisley grew up and lived most of his life in France, but he never renounced his British citizenship. His father operated a business exporting silk and artificial flowers. Sisley's mother was extremely knowledgeable about music. In 1857, the parents sent young Albert to London to study for a career in commercial trade. While there, he visited the National Gallery and examined the work of the painters John Constable and J.M.W. Turner.

In 1861, Albert Sisley returned to Paris, and a year later began art studies at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. There, he met fellow painters Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. They frequently took trips to paint landscapes outdoors in an effort to realistically capture the changing impact of sunlight throughout the day.

Sisley met Eugenie Lesouezec in 1866. Together, they had two children, Pierre, born in 1867, and Jeanne, born in 1869. Although they remained together until Eugenie's death in 1898, they didn't marry until August 5, 1897. In 1870, due to the impact of the Franco-Prussian War, Sisley's father's business failed. Sisley and his family lived in poverty for the rest of his life, surviving on the income from selling his paintings. The value of his works didn't increase significantly until after his death.

albert sisley seine at point du jour
The Seine at Point du Jour (1877). Hulton Fine Art / Getty Images

Landscape Painter

Camille Pissarro and Edouard Manet were primary influences on the style and subject matter of Albert Sisley's paintings. Pissarro and Manet were key figures who provided a bridge to the development of impressionism in the latter part of the 19th century. Sisley's primary subject was landscape painting, and he often depicted dramatic skies.

The painting "The Bridge in Argenteuil," painted in 1872, shows Sisley's primary interest in the landscape and architecture of the bridge despite the presence of strolling people in the painting. He boldly depicts the clouds in the sky and the rippling effect of waves in the water.

Albert Sisley
The Bridge in Argenteuil (1872). Mondadori Portfolio / Getty Images

"Barges on the Loing at Saint-Mammes," painted in 1885, shows the bold colors created by the intense sunlight of a warm summer day. The reflections of the buildings along the beach are shown broken up by the movement of the water, and the eye is drawn through perspective to a railway viaduct in the distance.

Friendship With Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Claude Monet

Alfred Sisley became close friends with Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Claude Monet, two of the most prominent impressionists. The trio often painted and socialized together. Sisley was close enough to Renoir that the latter painted multiple portraits of Sisley both alone and with his partner, Eugenie.

albert sisley pierre-auguste renoir
Albert Sisley painted by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Yorck Project / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Sisley was never as prominent in the Paris art scene as his two close friends. Some observers theorize that is due to the fact that Sisley insisted on embracing both his French and British roots, straddling two cultures, while his better-known colleagues were French through and through.

Later Career

Constantly seeking a lower cost of living due to struggling to get by on his income from selling paintings, Sisley moved his family to small villages in the French countryside. Late in his career, he began focusing more intently on architecture as a subject in his art. An 1893 series of paintings focuses on a church in the village of Moret-sur-Loing. He also painted a series of depictions of the Rouen Cathedral in the 1890s.

alfred sisley barges on the loing
Barges on the Loing at Saint-Mammes (1885). Heritage Images / Getty Images

Albert and Eugenie traveled to Great Britain for a final time in 1897. They married each other in Wales and stayed along the coast where Sisley executed nearly 20 paintings. In October, they returned to France. Eugenie died several months later, and Albert Sisley followed her to the grave in January 1899. To assist with the financial needs of the children Sisley left behind, his good friend Claude Monet arranged an auction of the artist's paintings in May 1899.

albert sisley view of fontainebleau wood
View of Fontainebleau Wood (1885). Mondadori Portfolio / Getty Images

Legacy

Alfred Sisley received little acclaim during his lifetime. However, he was one of the founding artists of French impressionism. His early paintings provide a link between the neo-impressionistic works of artists such as Edouard Manet, and key impressionists such as Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, both good friends of Alfred Sisley. Some also see Sisley as a rightful predecessor to the work with light and color in the paintings of Paul Cezanne.

Source

  • Shone, Richard. Sisley. Harry N. Abrams, 1992.