The biography of Alfred Sisley (1839 - 1899)

Alfred Sisley (October 30, 1839 – January 29, 1899) was an English Impressionist landscape painter who, apart from a period spent in London in 1857-61 and brief trips to England from 1870 to 1871 (during the Franco-Prussian War) and again in 1874, lived his entire life and worked in France. Alfred Sisley was born on the 30th October 1839, in Paris. His parents were English William Sisley and Felicia Sell. His father William Sisley was a successful exporter to the USA.

Alfred Sisley received an excellent education, even studying English and business in London before returning to Paris in 1862. He took the opportunity to study the works of John Constable and William Turner. However Sisley wasn’t attracted to the business-world and returned to Paris at age 23. His father supported him and decided to send him to the École des Beaux-Arts in the atelier of Charles-Gabriel Gleyre. Fellow students of Gleyre included Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet and Frédéric Bazille. Their friendship was to revolutionize painting and radically change the history of art. Together they would paint landscapes in the open air in order to realistically capture transient effects of sunlight. This innovative approach resulted in paintings more colorful and more broadly painted than the public was accustomed to seeing. Consequently, Sisley and his friends initially had few opportunities to exhibit or sell their work.

In 1866, Sisley married Eugénie Lesouezec with whom he had two children. Sisley received an allowance from his father. His financial security vanished in 1870 when his father’s business failed and his father had lost all his money as a result of the war. Sisley, with a family to support, for the remainder of his life would live in poverty. He now saw himself as a full-time professional painter and part of the Impressionist group, exhibiting with them in 1874, 1876, 1877 and 1882.

Sisley painted in the French countryside with Renoir in 1866, his first year at the Salon, where he was received as a student of Corot, and in 1867 stayed for a time with Bazille. Among Sisley’s best known works are Street in Moret and Sand Heaps, both owned by the Art Institute of Chicago, and The Bridge at Moret-sur-Loing shown at Musée d'Orsay, Paris. Allée des peupliers de Moret (The Lane of Poplars at Moret) has been stolen three times from the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nice: in 1978, when it was on loan in Marseille, in 1998 and in August 2007. It has yet to be recovered. In the 1870s he produced a remarkable series of landscapes of Argenteuil, where he was living, one of which, The Bridge at Argenteuil was bought by Manet. Towards the end of the decade Monet was beginning to have a considerable influence on him.

The canvases Sisley painted in his later life were not always of the quality and invention of his paintings of the 1870’s and 80’s, as he seemed to become constrained by a preoccupation with technique. Unlike Monet or Renoir he did not confront urban life in his landscapes, and his view of nature was not shaped by anarchist politics like Pissarro’s. Instead he painted a timeless yet unsentimental view of nature in which man, although present, is never the controlling force. Sisley eventually achieved a considerable reputation but it was won at a high price and he had little time to enjoy it. Sisley died in Moret-sur-Loing at the age of 59, on January 29, 1899 of throat cancer, just a few months after the death of his wife.