Alfred Sisley Biography

Alfred SisleyAlfred Sisley is known for his beautifully executed Impressionist landscape paintings. During his lifetime, however, Alfred Sisley paintings were rarely appreciated. Sisley was the least successful of the Impressionist painters, and the Sisley biography is full of struggle and poverty. Thankfully, Sisley continued to paint, despite the lack of critical encouragement, and left behind a stunning body of work, full of color and light.


Alfred Sisley was born in Paris in 1839. His parents were English, and were quite affluent. His father ran a successful business and his mother lived a leisurely life exploring art and music. These parents had a life of wealth planned for the little Sisley: Alfred was to enter the business world. In 1857, he was sent to London to learn about the commodities market, but instead spent the majority of his time in museums and art galleries. He studied the works of famous English landscape painters, such as Turner and Bonnington. This informal education would appear in later Sisley paintings, as the artist would work to incorporate classical landscape painting techniques into his Impressionist works.

In 1862, Sisley left the business world behind and entered the School of Fine Arts in Paris. Here, he formed friendships with Monet and Renoir. These friendships would prove to be pivotal for Sisley. The artists would provide him with inspiration, and would work to promote his reputation after his death.

Professional Career

In 1864, Alfred Sisley left school behind and began to paint in earnest. Like many of his Impressionist contemporaries, he was fond of painting directly from nature, standing outside with his paints and his canvas, rather than sketching an image and completing it in his studio. Sisley's father began to provide financial support, allowing Alfred Sisley to focus on his painting career.

In 1866, Sisley paintings were accepted into the Salon exhibition. This was a prestigious honor, allowing the young painter to publicly display his works and accept criticisms from experts. One Sisley painting displayed here, Avenue of Chestnut Trees Near la Celle Saint Cloud shows a shady lane leading into the distance, nearly completely obscured by the dark, drooping trees that cover the road. While modern viewers find this image to be traditionally Impressionist in tone and form, contemporary critics found these paintings to be unfinished and messy. All Alfred Sisley paintings shown at the Salon were roundly criticized.

In 1866, Sisley would marry a young model Eugènie Lescouezec. They would pose for a portrait by Renoir entitled The Engaged Couple, now commonly referred to as Alfred Sisley and His Wife. Here, Sisley looks upon his wife with courtly attention, offering his arm and leaning in, while she smiles prettily at the viewer. The two would move to Louveciennes in 1869.


In 1871, Sisley's father became ill. His business began to suffer, and then crumbled entirely. The family was plunged into poverty, and Sisley lost his familial income. Sisley artwork would have to support his family fully. This was a difficult task, as the artist's work was still not well accepted. In 1871, he fled to Paris. Here, he met the art dealer Durand-Ruel, whose gallery was devoted to paintings by French artists. From this gallery, he was assured a moderate amount of money, but his fortunes were far from secure.

While the artist's life during this time was far from peaceful, Sisley paintings continued to demonstrate a remarkable sense of joy and light. The Sisley painting The Bridge at Villeneuve-la-Garenne, shows a landscape awash in a bright, warm yellow light. The buildings seem to glow with warmth.

In 1874, Alfred Sisley paintings would be included in the first independent Impressionist painting exhibition. The group of painters had rejected the Salon system, which they felt was biased toward large paintings and established painters, and had formed their own group dedicated to their new style of painting. This was a risky business, and rejecting the Salon didn't ensure any profit whatsoever. He would show with the Impressionists again in 1876 and 1877, but would see no enthusiasm from the critics or buyers.

In the late 1879, the Sisley family was still desperate for money. Sisley chose to leave the Impressionist group behind and attempt, once again, to show his works in the Salon system. The Sisley paintings were rejected, however, and the family was evicted from their home.


In 1880, Sisley moved to the Moret Sur Loing near Fountainbleau. Here, he would paint in a sort of solitary confinement, repeatedly generating images of the same scenes over and over, trying to get the light just right. For Sisley, Moret would prove a source of deep inspiration and joy, found late in his life. He would generate multiple landscape paintings of the rivers, trees and buildings in this area, during the changing seasons. These landscapes, painted with precision and color, would generate some interest from collectors, and Sisley would see his fortunes begin to rise. The Sisley painting Le Pont de Moret from 1893 is a typical painting of this time. A bridge stretches to the center of the canvas on the left, and is reflected in the water below. A bright building, surrounded by trees, sits in the middle of the image. The clarity of the light and the brilliance of the sky sets this image apart from other Impressionist works. The colors are truly remarkable and bright, and the outlines of the figures are starkly clear.

In 1897, Sisley's health began to fail. He developed arthritis and began to have difficulty in standing out in the elements to paint. He then developed throat cancer, and declined rapidly. He left his estate into the care of Monet, and died in 1899. After his death, the Sisley paintings were once again reevaluated. Critics began to see the joy, technique and life contained in the images, and prices began to rise. Alfred Sisley is now recognized as one of the masters of the Impressionist form.