Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Sun and Fog

One of the second-tier figures of Impressionism, Alfred Sisley was born on this date in 1839. Sisley befriended both Monet and Renoir (who painted Sisley and his wife in 1868), painting many of the same subjects as they did, yet lacking the same spark of endless experimentation that those two used to rise to the next level. In works such as Fog, Voisins (above, from 1874), Sisley shows the influence not only of his fellow Impressionists but also that of J.M.W. Turner, whose paintings Sisley would have seen during his time living there from 1857 through 1861. The famous atmospheric fog of the late Turner seascapes appears here in the rural landscape of Sisley’s France, contrasting starkly with the usual Impressionist affinity for sunlight and clarity, a rare deviation from the Impressionist norm for Sisley, who depended on the financial support of his affluent parents through much of his life, a safety net that may have prevented him from flying too far or too high.

Another British influence on Sisley was that of John Constable. In Sisley’s Environs de Louveciennes (above, from 1873), Constable meets the Barbizon School, the generation of French painters painting out of doors around the Fontainebleau region just before the Impressionists came upon the scene. Renoir also painted around the region, attempting to recreate the landscapes of Corot, which must have influenced Sisley as well. Sisley moved to Fontainebleau in 1880, after the Franco-Prussian War of the 1870s ruined his father’s business and forced him to rely on his painting to support his family. In Environs de Louveciennes, we see Sisley’s sure, confident touch with landscape, a comfortable type of Impressionism that shows great skill but little of the boldness of Monet or Renoir.

Moret-Sur-Loing (above, from 1891) shows Sisley’s famous affinity for blue skies, which mimic those of Turner in their intensity and echo Turner’s own influence, Canaletto. The light in these skies seems more Mediterranean than French, an imaginative fancy amplifying an already beautiful scene. Sadly, Sisley’s work blends in with that of many of the second-tier Impressionists, mainly due to his choice of subject, which draws too direct a comparison with the first-tier artists of the same school. If nothing else, Sisley’s work demonstrates the link between Impressionism and the giants of nineteenth century England, especially Turner and Constable, proving that Impressionism wasn’t exclusively grown on French soil.

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