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Impressionism & Alfred Sisley Paintings

Alfred Sisley’s paintings so clearly resonate impressionism both in their colors and style. From all the impressionists, it is Alfred Sisley who most fully embraced the impressionism technique of painting en plein air (painting outdoors) only.

Unlike most of his impressionism peers, he rarely painted figures. Today his beautiful landscapes are world famous, but sadly Alfred Sisley died a poor and unacknowledged painter.

In the Woods - Alfred Sisley paintings
Landscape by Alfred Sisley

Early Years

Alfred Sisley was born in Paris in 1839 to affluent English expatriates. Although he lived most of his life in France, he never attained French citizenship.  At the age of 18, he traveled to London for the first time to study commerce.

However, the world of business did not interest Sisley and after four years, he abandoned this career and followed his passion for painting. During his time in London, he spent more time going to art exhibitions than studying business. The landscape English painters J.M.W. Turner and John Constable were major influences on Sisley.

Painting - Small Meadows in Spring by Alfred Sisley paintings
Small Meadows in Spring by Alfred Sisley [Public Domain]

Sisley & the Impressionists

On his return to Paris, Sisley started painting lessons. Through his studies, he met other emerging painters like Bazille, Monet and Renoir. These young artists set up their easels outdoors and painted the landscapes surrounding them.  This technique was called plein air painting. It was an unprecedented way of painting in the 19th century.

Sisley and his friends also painted using brighter colors and with short and quick brushstrokes. Their avant-garde techniques were soon to be coined impressionism.

Sisley fell madly in love with a painting model, Marie-Louise Adelaide Lescouezec. Despite her lowly background, they married and remained together until their deaths. They had two children. People assumed that they were married but in fact, for most of their lives, they lived as a de-facto couple.

isley and his wife before the Franco Prussian War - Painting by Auguste Renoir
Sisley and his wife before the Franco Prussian War – Painting by Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)

Up until the Franco-Prussian war, Sisley’s father financed him. However during the war, his father’s business went bankrupt. His father died shortly thereafter. From that point on, Sisley needed to rely on his painting to support his family.

Sisley’s Difficult Years as a Painter

Sisley could barely make a living. They could no longer afford to live in Paris and moved to the less expensive nearby villages. In 1877, he lived in Sèvres, in 1880, in Veneux-Nadon, and in 1882, in Moret-sur-Loing. Here in Moret he painted many oil paintings of the picturesque streets, houses and of the surrounding countryside.

  The Banks of the Loing towards Moret by Alfred Sisley
The Banks of the Loing towards Moret by Alfred Sisley

Sisley’s dedication to the Impressionism philosophy never wavered. He exhibited his paintings in many of the impressionism exhibitions. However, as with all the impressionists, the art critics scorned his paintings and the art patrons did not buy his artworks.

To gain acceptance he tried exhibiting in the prestigious Salon. However, the Salon rejected him. Many years later, the Salon did accept some of his paintings.

Alfred Sisley painting
Alfred Sisley painting [Public Domain]

Monet’s Promise to Sisley

In 1897 Sisley (at the age of 58) officially married his wife.  A year later, she died of cancer.  In January of 1899, Sisley himself was ill . He invited his good friend Monet to visit him. He asked of Monet to look after his children after his death. A week later he died and was buried in Moret’s local cemetery.

Keeping to his word, Monet organized an auction of Alfred Sisley’s paintings to raise money for Sisley’s children. In the auction they managed to sell twenty-seven of his paintings, raising 112,320 francs.

Why Did Art Historians Overlook Sisley?

Sisley applied for French nationality many times throughout his life but he was denied each time. Ironically, it was decades after his death that he would be recognized as one of the great French Impressionist painters.

Alfred Sisley ‘s paintings were not acknowledged in his lifetime. However, his impressionist contemporaries respected him and recognized his talents.

Grande Jatte - Alfred Sisley Painting
Grande Jatte – Alfred Sisley Painting

When Impressionism became appreciated and embraced by the art world and beyond, strangely Sisley’s involvement in the movement was overlooked. The attention focused more on his impressionist peers, such as Monet, Renoir and Pissarro .

One theory about why Sisley was overlooked was because he was considered too English to be a French Impressionist!

Alfred Sisley’s Paintings

Alfred Sisley’s paintings are about the scenery that surrounded him – the churches, bridges, rivers, fields and trees in various seasons and shades.

Flood in Moret - Alfred Sisley Paintings
Flood in Moret – Alfred Sisley Painting

Sisley left behind around 900 oil paintings. Many of his older paintings are missing. There is a strange story circulating about some of his missing paintings. Read on……

Where are Sisley’s Missing Paintings??

Alfred Sisley’s paintings did not sell well during his lifetime. However, we now know that he sold many of his paintings to Moret-sur-Loing villagers at bargain prices in order to pay for rent and food. Today, these paintings would be worth millions.

This has led to a more interesting turn of events. According to this article from The Guardian, art historians believe that villagers in Moret may be hiding original Sisley paintings that their ancestors may have bought or bartered decades ago.

Summer in Moret - Alfred Sisley Painting
Summer in Moret – Alfred Sisley Painting [Public Domain]

Why are they hiding these paintings?

The Moret heirs are afraid of the tax authorities….If they admit to an original Sisley in their possession, they may need to pay incredible amounts of inheritance tax?? It is thought that there may be over 500 original Sisley paintings missing and perhaps somewhere in Moret!!

So if you are staying in a local B&B is Moret, have a peak in their attic or basement. You may find a Sisley original!!!!!!

Paris Museums Displaying Alfred Sisley’s Paintings

Today many prestigious art museums around the world exhibit Sisley’s paintings. If you are traveling to Paris, you can view Sisley’s Paintings in the following art museums:

The Alfred Sisley Walking Trail in Moret

In Moret-sur-Loing, Alfred Sisley immortalized the well-known view of the bridge and the town. This famous Impressionist lived here for nearly 20 years (1880-1899 ). He lived in a humble house not far from the Moret church.

Le pont de Moret - painting by Sisley
Le pont de Moret [Public Domain] – Alfred Sisley
Original painting displayed in Musée des Beaux-Arts André Malraux du Havre
Photo of Le pont de Moret
Le pont de Moret photo by Renaud Camus  on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The picturesque streets, the lovely banks of the Loing, the canal and the ancient houses of the town have virtually remained unchanged since Sisley painted them. In this small town there is “the Sisley walking trail” showing the sites that Sisley painted.

Moret-sur-Loing is only 80 kilometers from Paris and a one hour train ride away. It is a gorgeous medieval town. Here you will feel like you are stepping into a Sisley painting. I highly recommend!

Photo of Moret-sur-Loing
Moret-sur-Loing – Olivier  on Flickr
(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Museums in Normandy with Alfred Sisley Paintings

Rouen’s Musée des Beaux-Arts ( The Museum of Fine Arts)

If you are a fan of impressionism art, then you MUST visit Rouen’s Museum of Fine Arts . This museum showcases an impressive impressionist collection including paintings of Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley and others. For more information about opening hours, ticket prices and current exhibitions, press here.

The Musée d’art moderne André Malraux in Le Havre

The Musée d’art moderne André Malraux is also known as Musée Malraux or MuMa. It is a very popular Normandy tourism attraction. This gorgeous museum is located by the sea in Le Havre, Normandy. It contains one of France’s  most extensive collections of the impressionism art movement from the late-19th and 20th-century. 

The permanent exhibition on the first floor showcases the famous French impressionists and post-impressionists including Pissaro, Sisley, RenoirDegas,  Monet, Matisse, Courbet, Dufy and others. It is a first class collection. 

For more details about the museum and current exhibitions, press here

Alfred Sisley Painting during his time in Rouen, Normandy
Alfred Sisley Painting during his time in Rouen, Normandy