Who was Alfred Sisley

Alfred Sisley was an Impressionist painter who lived between 1839 and 1899. He was born in Paris, but his family had English roots. He studied art at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, but gave it up to become a stockbroker. His father lost all their money in the crash of 1866, so Alfred had to go back to painting. He painted landscapes, mostly of France. He also did some flowers, which are his best-known work today. But he hated landscape painting; he said it was "a mere mechanical exercise." He tried to make painting more "imaginative," like poetry or music or even dance (he loved ballet).

Alfred Sisley's Early Life

Alfred Sisley was born in Paris in 1839, to a family of English origin. The painter Robert Sisley, the artist's father, was a man devoted to his profession. He not only focused on painting, but also taught his son to develop an interest in the field. Sisley's childhood was mostly happy. He especially enjoyed the summers spent at the family's country house in the village of Esbly, where he was allowed to roam freely with other village boys. At age eleven he received drawing lessons from Charles-François Daubigny, who became something like a second father to him; Daubigny taught the teenage Sisley not only to paint but also how to observe accurately and describe exactly what he saw. The boy grew up in an artistic atmosphere and started drawing at a very young age under his father's guidance. When he was eight years old, he enrolled at the primary school of the Beaux-Arts in Paris where he received formal training for five years. The young talented painter then went to work with his father who had become a successful landscape painter by that time. He worked for him for three years. Then, at age fifteen, Alfred Sisley started studying in Moreau's studio. From that time on he became one of the most prominent painters of the Impressionist movement.

Sisley's motivation for painting

Alfred Sisley was born into a comfortable middle-class family in Paris. He had not planned to be an artist; he wanted to be a doctor. But he was not good at the sciences, and switched to art. He saw his first painting by Claude Monet when he was seventeen, and it changed his life. He spent the next two years working hard to learn everything he could about painting. Then he set out on his own. He wasn't driven by ambition or fame; he was driven by what it meant to him to be an artist. He didn't want to paint like someone else; he wanted to paint like himself. When you see what other artists are doing, you always find people who are better than you are. But Sisley wasn't driven by competition; he was driven by what it meant for him to make paintings that were his own.

Alfred Sisley's Early work

Alfred Sisley was a contemporary of Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro and others. He studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris from 1852 until 1857 when he received the only prize given to him by Charles Gleyre. He had been painting since about 1860 and since 1865 he exhibited at the Salon in Paris. In 1869 he became a member of the Société des Artistes Français and was elected a full member in 1880. He also took part in many international exhibitions, including The World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 where his paintings were shown to much acclaim. His works are particularly associated with the River Seine, mainly around Rouen, where he found beautiful landscapes to paint.
Alfred Sisley was one of the first painters to take Monet's ideas about Impressionism seriously. He went to work in Monet's garden, and made a series of paintings that were as carefully planned as an architect's drawing and as full of light and color as a walk through a garden on a sunny day. They are wonderful paintings.

Alfred Sisley's influences

In 1857, at the age of seventeen, Sisley exhibited for the first time, showing a replica of a Dutch landscape of Ruisdael's. Then he sent two paintings to the Salon des Refusés, which were rejected. Sisley became close friends with the Impressionists Camille Pissarro and Édouard Manet in 1868 when he traveled to Pontoise, just outside of Paris, to paint landscapes. Joining them on painting excursions to nearby Auvers-sur-Oise would become one of Sisleys' lasting friendships. He continued to travel throughout France and Italy during his ten years with the group. Sisley's works often contain silvery grey tones that reflect light in an ethereal manner. This is evident in his painting "The Lock at Moret", which was painted in 1884 and is now in the collection of The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. Alfred Sisley was not the only French Impressionist. Manet and Monet got there first, and Renoir and Pissarro and Degas were at least his equals. But he was the most English of them all. Isolation and tradition were his inspirations, and in many ways his work is more characteristic of the movement than its originators'. Leslie Paul quotes a critic from 1894, who said his paintings "suggest a melancholy which is peculiar to himself." In a sense that's true: Sisley's landscapes are often places you would expect to be sad. They are overgrown with weeds or else caked with snow. Their weather is always gray. But there is something more going on here than just a personal style. Sisley was born in Paris in 1839, but grew up mostly in England. He went back to France for art school, but after serving an apprenticeship with the wallpaper designer Peter Bance he returned to London, where he lived for the rest of his life. That wasn't because he had any particular affection for London; on the contrary, he didn't like it much more than Paris. It was simply easier to get commissions there.

Understand Sisley's style

Sisley's style was to paint in a simple way. He used few colors, and preferred to leave the canvas entirely untouched in the white areas. He made no effort to describe or even suggest natural forms, but instead attempted only to create flat areas of color with light and dark accents. His surfaces are always calmly finished, often almost glossy; his brushwork is simple, direct, and restrained; his compositions are traditional. His frequent use of white underscores the simplicity of his color palette and further emphasizes his efforts to suggest volume by means of carefully modulated, subtle transitions of tone. Sisley's work is not innovative. It is not based on any scientific study of optics or color theory, nor does it provide any new solutions for combining colors or using them to describe form. Instead, it is based on an accurate observation of nature that rests on centuries of cumulative experience. If you want your pictures to be more interesting than snapshots, you should start by paying attention to your subject matter the way Sisley did.

The Death of Alfred Sisley

Alfred Sisley's death is one of the most remarkable events in the history of art. It is not that he died young, or that he was widely mourned, or that he died in tragic circumstances. It is because of what happened to his paintings. Alfred Sisley was born in Paris in 1839, and died there in 1899. He was not a famous artist during his lifetime. He had his first big showing at the Paris Salon, which is kind of an official annual art show for France, in 1864, and the paintings were not very well received. Of the five paintings he showed, two were rejected and three accepted, which seems like a pretty mediocre result. But they were such good paintings that even the ones left on the cutting room floor would have been better than almost anything else shown at the Salon that year. His next showing came four years later at the Paris World's Fair, where his painting was one of two accepted out of twenty-three entries. This time three of his five paintings were accepted, and again they were so good that all three would have been better than everything else shown at the Salon that year had they not been disqualified for being repetitions of previous work.

The Legacy of Alfred Sisley

Alfred Sisley was one of the outstanding figures in the French school of Impressionists. Although he was not one of the original founders of the group, he exhibited with them, and became associated with what was known as "the movement." He was not only an artist but also a dedicated chronicler of his times. Sisley's father was a solicitor in Paris. The boy showed an early interest in art, and his father encouraged him by making sure he had proper training, sending him to study under Corot, who was then at the height of his career. Sisley traveled widely, visiting Italy and Switzerland to expand his knowledge of art. He did not stay long in Paris but went to London for two years, where he met Manet and other artists of his generation. He returned to France after that, living outside Paris most of the time. Lived between Paris and London Sisley's paintings were greatly admired by Monet; however, Sisley never joined any formal group or movement. Unlike many artists who considered an exhibition a failure if no one bought anything at it, he insisted on retaining full control over what works he would sell and what ones would remain with him.

Oil painting reproduction of Alfred Sisley