Alfred Sisley

Alfred Sisley

Alfred Sisley

Although he was born and spent much of his life in France, Alfred Sisley was the only major Impressionist artist to work in Wales.

Last updated: 04 February 2009

Sisley was born in Paris on 30 October 1839 to English parents, and retained his British nationality throughout his life. Today he is considered to be one of the greatest landscape painters of the 19th century, and a leading artist in the Impressionist school of painting.

His father William Sisley was a merchant with business interests in the US, and his mother Felicia Sell was a cultivated music connoisseur.

At the age of 18 Alfred Sisley was sent to London to learn business skills, but returned to Paris after four years. From 1862 Sisley studied in the studio of Marc-Charles-Gabriel Gleyre and received an allowance from his wealthy father.

Unfortunately Sisley's student works are now lost, although his earliest known work, Lane near a Small Town, is believed to date from around 1864.

It was was while working at Gleyre's studio that Sisley met fellow artists Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Frédéric Bazille. The painters created landscapes in the open air which aimed to realistically capture the effects of sunlight. Although innovative, the resulting paintings proved challenging to audiences, and there was little opportunity to showcase the works in public.

Sisley worked with Renoir, Monet and Pissarro in 1865 at Marlotte, and with Renoir on a boat on the Seine. His first exhibited work was in 1866. The same year he began a relationship with Eugénie Lesouezec (also known as Marie), with whom he had two children.

The Cliff at Penarth, Evening, Low Tide, 1897The Cliff at Penarth, Evening, Low Tide, 1897.
© Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales. Acquired with the assistance of The Art Fund and the Gibbs Family Trust, 1993.

When Sisley's father's business failed in 1870 his financial support was withdrawn, and the sale of paintings became the artist's only source of funding. As as consequence he lived for much of the rest of his life in poverty.

Aside from a period in London from 1857 to 1861, and brief trips to Britain in 1874, 1881 and 1897, Sisley lived his whole life in France. In 1870 he displayed some of his Impressionist works at the Salon at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. The following year he began painting river landscapes and village scenes at Argenteuil, Bougival and Louveciennes, and in 1880 Sisley moved his family to a village near Moret-sur-Loing, where he found inspiration in the landscapes.

Between 1876 and 1889 his works were exhibited in London, Boston, Rotterdam, Berlin and New York. In 1890 he was elected a member of the Nationale, and subsequently exhibited in their Salon. In 1897 he held a large retrospective, but found it met with little acclaim among critics and collectors.

Sisley and Eugénie Lesouezec visited Wales in 1897 at the suggestion of one of his patrons with business interests there. The couple, who were both suffering from cancer, spent July to September in Penarth, near Cardiff, and spent their honeymoon at Langland Bay on the Gower Peninsula. On 5 August they married in Cardiff Register Office, although by this time their health was declining.

Storr's Rock, Lady's Cove, Evening, 1897Storr's Rock, Lady's Cove, Evening, 1897.
© Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales. Acquired with the assistance of The Art Fund (with a contribution from the Wolfson Foundation), 2004.

In 1898 Sisley's application for French citizenship was rejected. A second attempt was made the following year, but by then he was terminally ill. He died in Moret-sur-Loing on 29 January 1899 at the age of 59, just a few months after the death of his wife.

Sisley's focus on landscapes was the most consistent of any of the Impressionists. Of more than 900 oil paintings he is known to have produced, fewer than a dozen were still lifes.

In 1899 Monet organised a posthumous auction of Sisley's work, to help the Sisleys' children. Prices for his pictures begin to rise, and in 1911 a memorial was built for him at Moret.

Although his art was little-noticed during his lifetime, the importance of Sisley's paintings has been recognised in the years following his death in 1899. Although overshadowed by fellow Impressionists such as Monet, Sisley's landscapes have been praised for their evocative nature, careful composition and skilful execution.

In July 2004 the National Museums and Galleries of Wales purchased a Welsh landscape by Sisley. The Cliff at Penarth, evening, low tide, was bought with Art Fund assistance in 1993. It was joined in 2004 by Storr's Rock, Lady's Cove - le Soir, 1897, a Welsh seascape by Sisley which the museum purchased at auction for £326,200.

Sisley's paintings of south Wales are his only seascapes. He made five paintings depicting Storr Rock at different times of day and in varying weather conditions.

An exhibition of the artist's works, Sisley in England and Wales, was staged at the National Gallery in London between November 2008 and February 2009. From 7 March to 14 June 2009 it comes to the National Museum Cardiff.

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