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 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.
Important Art by Alfred Sisley
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.
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.
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.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Alfred Sisley
- Alfred SisleyOur PickBy Raymond Cognait
- Alfred Sisley: The English ImpressionistBy Vivienne Couldrey
- Monet, Sisley, PissarroBy Pierre Francastel
- Alfred SisleyOur PickBy Mary Anne Stevens, Isabelle Cahn, Caroline Durand-Ruel Godfroy, William R. Johnston, Christopher Lloyd, Sylvie Patin
- Sisley-Loan ExhibtionOur PickBy Alfred Shone
- ART VIEW; Alfred Sisley, The Invisible Man of ImpressionismOur PickBy John Russell / The New York Times, Arts / September 27, 1992
- Giving Americans The Chance To Know Pure Impressionism Of Alfred Sislet The Show In Baltimore Is The First Major Exhibit For The Landscape Artist Ever Presented in A U.S. MuseumBy Edward J. Sozanski / Philly.com / March 28, 1993