SISLEY Alfred
( 1839-1899). French painter; born in Paris; died at Moret. Together with Monet, Sisley represents Impressionism in its purest form. He was tempted less than anyone by portraits or still lifes, except at the beginning; he confined himself almost exclusively to landscape, and his work did not undergo any profound change during the course of his life. His first known pictures, notably those he sent to the 1866 Salon, have been compared, in tonality, to the work of Corot and Courbet; this similarity revealed the nature of his preferences. He was lucky enough not to experience materially difficult beginnings like his Impressionist friends, but when he began to fight for the new painting, he was ruined and felt financial hardship even more than they. While in their worst days Pissarro and Cézanne received forty francs for their pictures, Sisley had more than once to give his away for thirty or even twenty-five. Moreover, he died before he could benefit from the triumph of his ideas and his work.
Immediately after his death his talent was recognized, and his paintings soon fetched high prices. Sisley's art consists almost entirely of landscapes, and even for these he confined himself to the valley of the Seine, the Île-de-France, especially the Fontainebleau region, of which he remains one of the most authentic interpreters. He succeeded admirably, and with as much sensibility as Monet, in transcribing the movement of foliage or the scintillation of light on water; but at the same time he succeeded better than Monet in preserving the structure of the landscape by not reducing it to luminous effects with unstable colours. Form remained firm in his work, not dissolved in the atmosphere; a tree is a tree, a house a house. There is nothing systematic in his art. He did not adopt the low horizons of Boudin, and while he gave an important place to the sky in certain pictures, this was because, in its movement and colour, it was part of the subject he was representing. In each of his canvases he gives the impression of having achieved as much as was possible. One could not image thicker undergrowth than that he painted in the forest of Fontainebleau, scenes of floods more desperate than those he transcribed at Port-Marly, snow scenes more sadly luminous than those of Louveciennes, springtimes clearer than those at Saint-Mammès, although he avoided dramatizing his subjects. His delicate and tender art enabled him to evoke with infinite poetry and grace the peaceful and picturesque life of the town of Moret, where he lived permanently after 1879. Although he experienced a fate similar to that of the other Impressionists, although he had also attended courses at the Atelier Gleyre in his youth, like Bazille, Monet and Renoir, and had fallen back upon the modest generosity of the baker and collector Murer, little has been written about his work and life. This is not because he lacked talent, but rather because his life was neither adventurous nor picturesque, because his art was entirely ruled by sensibility, did not strive to illustrate a rigorously established system and thus does not lend itself to commentary. Neither a few sojourns in England, his wish to be received at the Salon nor poverty shook Sisley's conviction or altered his art. As modest in his ambitions as he was tenacious in his convictions, he remained true to himself and to his freinds.
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