ALFRED SISLEY: Painting the Effects of Changing Lights

Platz in Argenteuil by Alfred Sisley 
Oil on Canvas Musee d'Orsay
Musee d'Orsay, Paris

Alfred Sisley (1839 – 1899) was born to British parents. He passed his life in the environment of France. 

He was an impressionist painter who mainly painted landscapes. He held the grand tradition of artists like Turner and Constable.

The ArtIn his paintings, we can see the scale and dexterity of the great painters. Though he had received moral and economic support from well-known art-dealers of the time, it was his misfortune that he did not get the due recognition during his lifetime. Ironically, just after his death in 1899, his paintings were received with great respect and positive responses from the viewers and other artists.

The Artist: Alfred Sisley was a close friend of Claude Monet, the master impressionist. His paintings were carrying some flavour like Monet’s artwork. But Sisley’s excellent structuring of the forms in his paintings made him clearly stand out of the shadow of Monet’s artistic influence. In the above landscape painting Platz in Argenteuil, Sisley had illustrated the most subtle nuances of nature: the daylight. As an impressionist artist, it was his utmost desire to express the feel of ‘here and now’ of the scenes he painted.

In addition to the masterly painted oils on canvas, Alfred Sisley had produced several remarkably beautiful watercolours, too. After seeing his paintings, we can see that Sisley had a keen interest in creating coloured impressions of the trees and the buildings. His paintings are superbly decorated with elegantly painted clouds above landscapes. His mastery in expressing the changing effects of light falling on the trees, the buildings and the land made his paintings much valuable.

The-Church-At-Moret-large
The Church at Moret Alfred Sisley

Alfred Sisley, though a British by birth, it did not prevent him from passing his life in the artistic air of France. Being an impressionist painter, he mainly worked on canvases painting landscape. Among his favourite artists, the artists there were two painters whom he loved and admired most: Turner and Constable. He keeps the painting styles of these artists at the tip of his brush while standing before his paintings. Sisley followed the tradition of paintings done by these master artists.

In Sisley's paintings, we see the scale and liveliness of these great painters. Though he had received active and monetary support from a group of renowned art-dealers of his time, it was his misfortune that he could not reach the height of recognition until he was alive. Ironically enough, shortly after he died in 1899, his art pieces started getting the attention of viewers and critics. They all greeted his paintings with great respect and positive responses. Sisley's paintings carried the shade of Monet’s artwork, as Claude Monet was among his closest friends. However, Sisley’s precise construction of the forms on his canvases would make him an outstanding artist of his own calibre.

Village on the Seine Alfred Sisley Oil on canvas
The State Hermitage Museum
Saint Petersburg, Russia
In his masterly painted landscape paintings, Sisley had executed the subtlest nuances of nature. As an impressionist painter, it was his utmost desire to express the feelings of the present of the scenes he painted. In addition to the masterly painted oils on canvas, Sisley had produced several remarkably beautiful watercolours, too. On scrutinizing his paintings, we would know that Sisley had devoted interest in creating coloured impressions of green trees with leaves and beauty. He had painted many beautiful scenes wherein we can see the painting of the marvellous building, too. 

In most of his painting, we would not miss the excellently painted clouds above the landscape. It was his masterly expression of the ever-changing light that fell on the objects he painted. These precision-clad lights and shadows made his paintings so memorable. 

For an impressionist painter, the controlling of the effects of light is an issue demanding artistic skill. While painting out of the doors, it is difficult to choose colours; especially when the artist has to work with his or her eyes half shut due to the presence of blazing sunlight. When an artist paints out of the doors, the same set of principles of painting applies; but it is hard to sort out the chaos of colours and keep their tonal values intact, especially in the impressionist style of painting. 

The above 'Oil on Canvas' is presently displayed at Sammlung Acquavella Galleries in New York. It looks geometrically divided into four parts. Horizontally divided in to by the horizon itself, just above the distant trees. Again the canvas is vertically divided by the straight trees on the left side. Through all the four areas, masterly painted in an impressionist style, the master artist Alfred Sisley had created an order in the space.

Alfred Sisley
The Port of Moret-sur-Loing - At night, 1884.

Using Light as Source: The blue, green and bright yellow spread in daylight scene helps in making the whole painting a balanced one for the eyes of viewers. Here the artist has used the unmixed primary colours. The small strokes have stimulated the light following on the water flowing under the bridge. The bright yellow in the foreground landscape had contributed to creating the general impression of the sunny afternoon. The eye-catching aspect of this painting is that the artist Sisley has made a strong attempt to record the visual reality of the day time. He has succeeded in transferring the transient effects of light and colour on canvas.

Catching General Impression: Under the style of the impressionist, the artist considers the impression created by the general pattern of the natural surrounding. And these artists generally completed their painting in one sitting. Impressionist painters mostly use unmixed and primary colours. By using smaller strokes of their brushes, the impressionist style artists try causing the actual effect of light and shadow.

The painters under the umbrella of the impressionist style of painting hold two main characteristics: one the free movement of the painter’s arm with a brush in his hand; and another the full concentration of their eyes on the subjects, as they are to finish the painting in one sitting. In the impressionist style of painting, there are more margins for the artist’s point of view and angle of perception to be rendered through a more human and more energetic approach. The beauty of the impressionist paintings lies in the artists’ catching the changing light and varying ambience virtually in no time, or say in one session. 

Eugen Dücker  Village in Northern Germany, Watercolour

The work of an artist who paints landscapes reflects our attitudes towards the natural world and our own place in it. 

The painters struggle to infuse the reality of the scene before their eyes and through that transfer the beauty of nature to their paintings. They make efforts showing the landscapes as they are looking to the bare eyes. But many artists attempt to show nature not as it is, but consciously transformed and ordered by the painter. Such imaginary and visionary painters in their works have tried to impose a logical and austere order in nature. They carefully construct their works, ignoring momentary moods and situations of the natural scene.

In depicting the underlying structures rather then the details of the three-dimensional world, these painters intend to elevate the viewers to a noble plane. In doing so their aims are nobler. They strive to make their work free of life’s imperfections, making their paintings the representatives of ideal beauty.

One of the efforts catching the moods of live-earth is the technique of painting in the open air. The sketches and paintings, including oil paintings, done in the open air in front of the view being recorded often possess an immediacy not found in landscape paintings done in the studio’s artificial lights. Many painters did much out-of-doors oil sketching, capturing in paint the vitality of natural phenomena. The art of landscape paintings honours and celebrate the physical environment of Mother Nature in a variety of ways. The idea of considering the countryside as a delightful and relaxing place of retreat from the chaos of the city is an old one. Rich with long pastoral areas, the mountains, rivers, lush green vegetations and the down-to-the earth people: these are the subjects that hold great importance for landscape painting. The landscape painters have painted such places turning them into the object of delights.

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