Alfred Sisley (1839 – 1899) was an Impressionist landscape painter who was born and spent most of his life in France. His work is characterized by its lyrical, fluid style and its concern for depicting the transitory effects of light and atmosphere. Sisley is recognized as one of the most consistent of the Impressionists, never deviating into figure painting or finding that the movement did not fulfill his artistic needs. Despite being an active member of the group who met frequently to discuss their craft, he was never involved in any of the major exhibitions organized by Impressionists in Paris, nor did he ever achieve the financial success of his fellow painters.
Alfred Sisley was born on 30 October 1839 in Paris, into affluent British parents; Francis Sisley, a silk merchant, and Felicia Sell, a native of Southampton. He grew up in London but spent his teenage years in France, where he developed a love for painting. After attending the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris from 1857 to 1861, he studied with Charles Gleyre, where he met Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, and Frédéric Bazille. These artists would become lifelong friends. Bazille was the only one of the group to achieve early financial success; this may have influenced Sisley’s career choice to remain in France rather than moving back to London, where the art market was more developed.
Sisley did not begin painting full-time until he was in his early forties. He had inherited a significant amount of money from his father, and married Marie-Louise Adélaïde Lenormand in 1862, which allowed him the financial security to paint. He first concentrated on portraits and contemporary scenes, but after a trip to Britain in 1874, he turned his attention to landscapes. It was during this time that he developed his distinctive style, characterized by its loose brushwork and depiction of light and atmosphere.
Sisley’s work was frequently compared unfavorably to that of the other Impressionists; he was seen as being more concerned with the overall effect of his paintings, rather than with capturing a moment in time. However, Sisley was always adamant that he was an Impressionist and that his work should be seen as such. He participated in several group exhibitions, but due to his independent financial situation, he was never as closely involved with the other painters as they were with each other.
Alfred Sisley died of throat cancer on 29 January 1899, at the age of 59. He was buried in the cemetery of Moret-sur-Loing, the town in which he had lived for the last 25 years of his life. His work was largely forgotten until the mid-20th century, when a renewed interest in Impressionism led to a reevaluation of his work. Today, Sisley is recognized as one of the leading figures of the Impressionist movement.