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Alfred Sisley: 1839 - 1899

Alfred Sisley was born in Paris of English parents, and apart from a few visits to London, where he was sent to learn English, he spent his life in France. His father intended for him to take up a career in commerce, but in 1862 he enrolled in the Paris Ecole des Beaux-Arts. In Charles Gleyre's studio there he met Monet, Renoir, and Bazille. Linked by a common dissatisfaction with official arts, typified by the academicism of their teacher Gleyre, the four students formed a clique apart from the others. They spent several summers together in the Forest of Fontainebleau in order to paint in the open.

Sisley resigned himself early to poverty, obscurity, and official rejections, and although he exhibited in the first impressionists show and three others, he spent very little time in Paris and finally retired to the village of Moret, where he could exist at minimum expense surrounded by subject matter that appealed to him - a quiet countryside and a village with old buildings, bridges, and river banks. Of all French painters he comes closest to the special lyrical response to nature found in English painters and even more in English poets. Camille Corot was his idol, and his painting has Corot's serenity beneath the more vibrant impressionist surface. Once he had discovered the impressionist palette and technique his manner changed very little over the years, yet his work is not repetitious. Each picture is remarkably complete in its effect, where much impressionism seems fragmentary. Sisley painted with great deliberation, allowing the fullest expression of his sensibilities.

After the Franco-Prussian war, Sisley began to paint in Argenteuil and other districts outside Paris. He worked alone, clinging more and more to his sense of isolation.

Although he started life in comfortable circumstances, the war and the Commune which followed it had deprived his father of his capital and Sisley himself suffered a poverty that was never alleviated, despite the efforts of Charles Durand-Ruel and another dealer, Charpentier, to help him.

In later years his work was shown in the United States, London, and Paris, but it failed to pick up good prices. After a one-man exhibition organized for him in Paris by Durand-Ruel, he moved even further out of town, to Saint-Mammes. In 1899, sending for Monet, who hurried to his side, he died in Moret-sur-Loing of cancer of the throat. Within a year his canvases were fetching high prices.

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