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Alfred Sisley Photo

Alfred Sisley

British Painter

Born: October 30, 1839 - Paris, France
Died: January 29, 1899 - Moret-sur-Loing, France
Movements and Styles:
"And though the artist must remain the master of his craft, the surface, at times raised to the highest pitch of liveliness, should transmit to the beholder the sensation which possessed the artist."
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Alfred Sisley Signature
"I always start a painting with the sky."
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Alfred Sisley Signature
"The Animation of the Canvas is one of the hardest problems of painting."
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Alfred Sisley Signature
"I like all those painters who loved and had a strong feeling for nature."
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Alfred Sisley Signature
"To give life to the work of art is certainly one of the most necessary tasks of the true artists. Everything must serve this end: form, color, surface. The artist's impression is the life-giving factor, and only this impression can free that of the spectator. And though the artist must remain the master of his craft, the surface, at times raised to the highest pitch of liveliness, should transmit to the beholder the sensation which possessed the artist."
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Alfred Sisley Signature
"Every picture shows a spot with which the artist has fallen in love."
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Alfred Sisley Signature
"What artists do I Love? To take just the contemporaries: Delacroix, Corot, Millet, Rousseau, Courbet, our masters. All who have loved Nature and felt strongly."
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Alfred Sisley Signature
"A Cézanne is a moment of the artist while a Sisley is a moment of nature."
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Henri Matisse Signature
"Since the Impressionist school will hold an important place in the history of the painting of this century and while it has established a universal movement, it is certain that Sisley will never be forgotten..."
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Jules Leclercq

Summary of Alfred Sisley

Alfred Sisley is one of Impressionism's most unjustly overlooked artists. This may perhaps be due to the fact that Sisley straddled two different cultures, having been born to English parents in France and later dividing his time between the two countries. As such, though he worked as one of the key figures in French Impressionism, he remained something of an outsider. Unlike many of his peers, who examined urban life, industrialization, and people, Sisley was almost exclusively a painter of landscapes, a subject from which he rarely strayed. What's more, there is a moodiness and distinct colorism in his works that suggest an influence from earlier periods of English and French art, especially the Barbizon school. As such, Sisley created his own unique brand of Impressionism that foreshadowed many of the new painting styles that would emerge in Europe after the turn of the 20th century.


  • Sisley's landscapes are known for their uncanny ability to capture a sense of atmosphere and light. This effect is compounded by his big, expressive skies, which are almost always a central feature of his paintings.
  • Although he is often considered an outsider because of his English citizenship, Sisley trained in Paris with Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Claude Monet, among other greats, and was one of the crucial figures working to create the new style that would become known as Impressionism.
  • Although Sisley's works are quite beautiful to the modern eye, it is important to remember that his work (like that of all of the Impressionists) was quite radical in its own day. His focus on modern, urban life, his view of nature as a worthwhile subject matter, and his sketchy, "impressionistic" style were all hallmarks of a new painting style for an industrialized world.
  • Sisley's sensitivity to the subtleties of natural landscapes was striking, allowing him to create landscapes that pulse simultaneously with the seemingly contradictory feelings of physical realism and dreamy emotionalism.

Biography of Alfred Sisley

Alfred Sisley Photo

Alfred Sisley was born in Paris, the son of affluent British expatriates. His mother, Felicia Sell, was a music connoisseur, and his father, William Sisley, owned a lucrative business exporting artificial flowers and silk. Felicia and William were cousins, descended from a long line of English smugglers and tradesmen. Alfred was one of four children, one of whom - the eldest brother - died at a young age. Unfortunately, little is known about Alfred's adolescence before he was sent to London in 1857 to study for a career in commerce. While in London, Sisley is said to have spent much of his time visiting the exhibitions of John Constable and J.M.W. Turner at the National Gallery.

Progression of Art

Avenue of Chestnut Trees Near La Celle-Saint-Cloud (1867)

Avenue of Chestnut Trees Near La Celle-Saint-Cloud

This monumental landscape was exhibited at the Salon of 1868. Avenue of Chestnut Trees Near La Celle-Saint-Cloud illustrates a hunting trail leading through a heavily shaded forest close to the village of La Celle. Sisley painted this subject two times before, in 1865. This painting's subject matter and intense color are reminiscent of the Barbizon school. In fact, the painting has been compared to Hobbema, Rousseau, Corot and Daubigny. Avenue of Chestnut Trees Near La Celle-Saint-Cloud is an example of Sisley's early work, which is known for the use of soft brushstrokes. His ability to represent the intense colors of the forest is achieved through the layering of green and gray tones. The deer standing to the right of the path may suggest a royal subject.

Napoleon III owned this royal hunting ground, which led Scott Schaeffer to believe that this is why the Salon Jury of 1868 accepted the painting. Moreover, Schaeffer states that Sisley's intention may have shown contempt for a royal subject through its representation in a landscape painting, which was considered an "inferior" genre. While Sisley's later work does seem to represent the sobering affects of modernity on nature, it is unknown if Sisley took a political stance in this work. Avenue of Chestnut Trees Near La Celle-Saint-Cloud may have been Sisley's examination of new subject matter, as he worked outside of the confines of the Academy, pioneering the Impressionist movement.

Oil on canvas - Southampton City Art Gallery

Footbridge at Argenteuil (1872)

Footbridge at Argenteuil

Footbridge at Argenteuil (1872) is a landscape painting that captures modern life at the end of the 19th century. The subject matter is not typical of Sisley's oeuvre, yet the painting is stylistically representative of his work. Footbridge at Argenteuil is inspired by contemporary Japanese prints, in which, as here, the picture plane is the main focus of the composition. This is evident in the bridge, which dominates the canvas and flattens out the composition through the use of diagonal lines which evoke sharp, fast movement and thereby mimic the speed of modern day life. Additionally, the foreground is pushed forward and the canvas is cropped, which creates a similar sense of spontaneity of a photograph. The harmonious balance of muted dark and light colors allows the eye to move quickly across the canvas, giving the illusion of movement.

Footbridge at Argenteuil is similar to Gustave Caillebotte's Pont de l'Europe, 1876. Although it is unknown if Caillebotte was aware of Sisley's painting, the two artists chose similar subject matter and viewpoints to depict the landscape. The two works differ in the way the artists chose to capture contemporary life. Caillebotte's painting focuses on the figures, celebrating modernity through the fashion of the period. In comparison, Sisley's painting focuses on the architecture, only showing a vague interest in the people strolling along the bridge. Sisley celebrates modernity, but through the detailed innovative materials of the bridge.

Although there is a lack of obvious narrative, this painting is particularly informative about the context of the time. Footbridge at Argenteuil depicts the newly emerging middle class vacationing in the suburbs outside of Paris. This new access to leisure became more common with the development of industry and the newly constructed railroad along the Seine River. Impressionist artists began capturing this new subject matter, creating genres that were distinct from the limitations of the Academy.

Oil on canvas - Musée d'Orsay

The Bridge at Villeneuve-la-Garenne (1872)

The Bridge at Villeneuve-la-Garenne

The Bridge at Villeneuve-la-Garenne (1872) represents an Impressionist landscape along the Riverbank of the Seine. This painting is emblematic of Alfred Sisley's oeuvre, concentrating on the artist's perception of the natural world. The application of quick, feathery brushstrokes captures the ephemeral effects of light on a surface. This can be seen with the subtle nuances of color on the river that reflect the sky, clouds, and grassy knoll. The perspective from which the artist chose to paint the bridge gives a sense of the structure's monumental scale. Additionally, Sisley included figures to provide a sense of scale to convey the bridge's size.

While the Bridge at Villeneuve-la-Garenne is a study of nature, it also illustrates France's desire to be politically and industrially progressive following the loss of the Franco-Prussian war. The bridge was reconstructed after the war and represents the restoration of France at the end of the 19th century. The Bridge at Villeneuve-la-Garenne then represents the rhetoric of hope of regeneration.

This painting was one of three works that Durand-Ruel purchased from Sisley. It was included in an album of three hundred of his most beautiful prints. The album was created with the intention to publish; yet this project was never realized.

Oil on canvas - Metropolitan Museum of Art

The River Loing at Saint-Mammès (1885)

The River Loing at Saint-Mammès

The River Loing at Saint-Mammès (1885) represents a port where the Loing and Siene Rivers meet. Sisley painted this subject several times while living in Les Sablons. The painting's lack of shadows and intense, warm colors suggest that it is a summer afternoon. Sisley methodically breaks the canvas into four horizontal planes, the grassy knoll, the river, the beach, and the sky. He paints the grassy knoll with curving diagonal brushstrokes, which flows seamlessly into the river, distinguished by short horizontal brushstrokes. The flat cream color of the beach divides the sand from the river with long horizontal painterly lines. Sisley used the sky to create a harmonious balance of color, unifying the composition. The whites, reds, purples and blues making up the clouds are reflected into the water. Additionally, the red roof tops of the beachfront homes are reflected in the river. This color scheme is also employed in the boats and the Paris-Lyons railway viaduct in the distance.

The deep hues, intense tones and systematic dabs of paint suggest that Sisley was aware of the Neo-Impressionist movement, particularly Seurat's method of pointillism. Indeed, there is an almost pointillist quality to this work. While Sisley's failing health and financial difficulties prevented him from traveling during this time, he may have taken short trips to Paris to see Seurat's paintings. Although Sisley was one of the only Impressionist members to continue to illustrate the original philosophy of the Impressionist style, this painting suggests that he did experiment with other modern ideas.

Oil on canvas - Collection of Arnold and Anne Gumowitz, New York

Haystacks at Moret, Morning (1891)

Haystacks at Moret, Morning

This work represents an open field of grain outlined by poplar trees. The Four haystacks create a diagonal line through the canvas, giving depth to the composition as they recede into the background. The massive landscape includes a peasant working in the field to illustrate the monumental scale of the haystacks. Poplar trees frame the background, additionally emphasizing the vastness of nature. Sisley captures the light reflecting off of the grain with deep oranges and reds through the thick layering of paint. His brushstrokes are almost whimsical, giving the grain texture. Haystacks at Moret, Morning represents France as a fertile, agrarian country, bountiful in its resources. The poplars were a National symbol, often represented in the iconography of France.

Sisley may have been inspired to explore this new theme after viewing Pissarro's The Rick, Pontoise (1873) and Harvest at Montfoucault (1876). Additionally, he may have seen Monet's haystack series, exhibited at Durand-Ruel's gallery the same year he undertook this subject. Sisley returned to this theme in 1895, creating four more paintings of haystacks. Like Monet, Sisley used the poplars to illustrate the enduring qualities of nature. In this way, they answered the problem that the Impressionist artists faced during the last decade of the 19th century, how to take an ephemeral subject and make it timeless.

Oil on canvas - National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

The Church at Moret: Morning Sun (1893)

The Church at Moret: Morning Sun

Sisley's painting represents the Church of Notre Dame at Moret-sur-Loing, seen from the West Portal entrance. He painted this church about a dozen times after settling in Moret in 1889. It is considered a series, although it is unknown if it was meant to be exhibited that way. The architecture encompasses the entire canvas, translating the heaviness of the stone structure. Sisley emphasizes the solidness of the church with thick painterly horizontal lines, but his loose brushwork and ability to capture the quality of moving light and shadow lightens up the whole work. The painting represents the church during the late afternoon, when the sun was setting on the church. This makes for a glowing composition, with vibrant golds, oranges, and browns set off against a clear blue sky.

Church of Moret is quite similar to the paintings from Monet's Rouen Cathedral series (1890s), which show Rouen Cathedral at different times of day in different sorts of weather. In spite of the similarity, it is unknown if Sisley was aware of or ever viewed Monet's series. In any case, it is a quintessential Impressionist painting in that it seeks to depict the real world around us in all its fleeting beauty and specificity.

Oil on canvas - Private Collection

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Content compiled and written by Sheryl Siclari-Ostyn

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Ellen Hurst

"Alfred Sisley Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Sheryl Siclari-Ostyn
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Ellen Hurst
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First published on 27 May 2016. Updated and modified regularly
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