To be stuck between a rock and a hard place is a common enough saying, implying that no matter what decision one has to make, it isn’t going to be pretty. Well, Alfred Sisley, Impressionist maestro, sought to single-handedly throw that out the window. If you’re talking about the artist stuck between a rock and a hard place – with the hard place defined as his painting easel – then the result one gets is an Impressionist masterpiece. Today we’ll take a look at what many experts believe was one of Sisley’s last great oil paintings: Storr Rock, Lady's Cove - le Soir, 1897, a Welsh seascape painted just two years before his untimely death.

A brief recap for the Alfred Sisley novices: the artist was born in Paris in 1839, where his father ran an import-export business. Although he was born in France and spent most of his life there, both his parents were English and he retained British nationality to his death, although he did apply twice for French citizenship. In 1857 his parents sent him to London for four years to learn the family business from relatives, but instead he discovered painting and returned to Paris where he enrolled in the studio of the Swiss painter Marc Gleyre, and where he met fellow future impressionists Monet and Renoir.

Fast forward a couple of decades to the year 1897, when Sisley and his long term partner Eugénie Lescouzec would travel to Britain for a study tour, and to finally marry in Cardiff. It was during this trip into south Wales that the couple stayed at Langland Bay near the beach at Lady’s Cove (now called Rotherslade Bay) and Storr’s Rock. Sisley was fascinated by the projection of rocks close to the Osborne Hotel, where he stayed, and made five paintings depicting Storr’s Rock at different times of the day and in different weather conditions. The Sisley painting Storr Rock, Lady’s Cove - le Soir, shows the north face of the rock at low tide on a bright evening. The enormous rock towers over the small figure of a boy dressed in a sailor suit with the beach partly in shadow and a supple evening light falling on the sea beyond speckled with sailing boats in the distance (we’ve included a photo and the painting for easy comparison above).

The painting was last sold at auction at Sotheby’s in London in 2004 for £326,200 - a steal, considering its significance in the Sisley oeuvre. At the time of purchase National Art Collections Fund chairman Brian Allen said he was proud of the investment. “This luminous painting, one of Sisley’s last works, will make a highly appropriate addition to the museum’s (Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales) collection.” A highly appropriate addition indeed: Sisley’s canvas paintings of Storr’s Rock celebrate the light and colour of the Welsh coast in a rich palette of pointed blues and tart mauves that nary a few artists have achieved, before or after him.