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Alfred Sisley
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Moret-sur-Loing, France
A classic Impressionist artist, Alfred Sisley excelled at the depiction of light on the French landscape through his inventive use of color. In addition to 940 known paintings, he created six prints during his career. Born in Paris in 1839, both his parents were English and Sisley remained an English citizen his entire life; his attempts to become a naturalized French citizen failed. His father had a successful business in the silk trade and as an exporter of artificial flowers. Little is known about Sisley’s early education. From 1857 to 1861 Sisley lived in London and trained for a career in business. He apparently spent time visiting museums and admired the landscapes of John Constable (1776-1837), Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) and Richard Parkes Bonnington (1802-1828). After his return to Paris in early 1862, he convinced his father to let him study art. In October Sisley entered the studio of Charles Gleyre (1806-1874), where he became friends with Claude Monet (1840-1926), Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) and Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870). The four friends left Gleyre’s studio the following spring and began painting in the environs of Paris, particular at the forest of Fontainebleau. Sisley’s earliest recorded landscape painting is from 1865. His paintings were accepted for the official Salon exhibitions of 1866, 1868 and 1870, but his works were rejected in 1867 and 1869. He married Marie Lescouezec (?-1898) in 1866; they would have two children. Sisley’s his prosperous father supported him until the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 ruined his father’s business, leading to his father’s premature death. Sisley thereafter had to support himself through the sale of his paintings, and lived in poverty for the rest of his life. He moved his family to the village of Louveciennes in 1871 during the Commune, and for the rest of his life lived in the countryside, mostly in the Seine River valley south of Paris. Sisley met the dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922) in 1872, who promoted his work and would buy hundreds of Sisley’s works over the succeeding decades, but his art never commanded good prices during his lifetime. Sisley was one of the organizers of the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874, an event that caused a scandal and was not a financial success. Later that year the art collector Jean-Baptiste Faure (1830-1914), a leading baritone at the Paris Opéra, took Sisley with him on a to London. During his four months in England, Sisley painted a notable series of works depicting views of the village of Hampton Court. The Impressionist artists held an auction in 1875 to recoup the expenses of their failed exhibition, but the sale was unsuccessful; Sisley’s paintings all sold for low prices. The 1876 Impressionist exhibition was similarly unsuccessful. Sisley participated in two more of the Impressionist exhibitions, in 1877 and 1882, but not the other four group shows. He resumed submitting works to the Salon, but they were refused. Evicted from his home in 1879, Sisley was forced to borrow funds to live on from one of his few patrons. Durand-Ruel exhibited 70 of Sisley’s works in his Paris gallery in 1883 and again at an exhibition in New York City in 1889. Sisley experimented with etching in 1890, creating four etchings for the exhibition of the Société des Peintres-Graveurs at Durand-Ruel’s gallery. He began exhibiting with the new Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1890, and participated in four additional exhibitions sponsored by the Société during the 1890s, which led to his becoming better-known. The Galerie Georges Petit held retrospective exhibition of his works in 1897, showing 146 paintings, but according to one scholar none of the works were sold. That year Ambroise Vollard (1867-1939) published Sisley’s color lithograph Bords de Riviére, or Les Oies (Riverbank, or The Geese; Delteil 6) in his L’Album d’estampes originales de la Galerie Vollard, Sisley’s wife died in 1898, by which time he was very ill, suffering from throat cancer, which caused his death in January 1899. Ironically, the art public became interested in his paintings after his death, and a sale of his works by his estate three months later was very successful. (Rev. TNB 8/2013) Selected bibliography: Daulte, François. Alfred Sisley: 1839-1899. Exhibition catalog. New York: Wildenstein: 1966. Nathanson, Richard. Alfred Sisley: 1839-1899, Exhibition catalog. London: David Carritt Limited, 1981. Stevens, MaryAnne, ed. Alfred Sisley. Exhibition catalog. London: Royal Academy of Arts; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.