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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sisley, Alfred


In winter, snow effect (En hiver, effet de neige)
1876
oil on canvas
46 x 55 cm
Musee des Beaux-Arts, Lille, France

Winter landscapes were particularly attractive to Sisley, Pissarro and Monet, because of the challenge of capturing the quality of the light and of mastering shadows. Snow scenes were an ideal motif for them: the softening and blurring of forms and the dense atmosphere required a muted palette to capture the myriad tones of reflected light and the softened contours of the landscape.

"Though the artist must remain master of his craft, the surface, at times raised to the highest pitch of loveliness, should transmit to the beholder the sensation which possessed the artist." (Sisley)

Alfred Sisley (1839-1899) was an Impressionist landscape painter who was born and spent most of his life, in France, but retained British citizenship. He is one of the creators of Impressionism. He was exclusively a landscape en plein air (i.e., outdoors) painter, who, in the line of Corot, and with Monet, best sought and succeeded in expressing the most subtle nuances of nature in Impressionist landscapes. He retained a passionate interest in the sky, which nearly always dominates his paintings, and also in the effects of snow, the two interests often combining to create a strangely dramatic effect. He never deviated into figure painting and, unlike Renoir and Pissarro, never found that Impressionism did not fulfill his artistic needs.

Sisley did not promote himself in the way that some of his fellow Impressionists did, and it was only towards the end of his life, when he was dying of cancer of the throat, that he received something approaching the recognition he deserved. His death at the very end of the nineteenth assumes a symbolic resonance. It signals the dissolution of the kind of Impressionism to which he had devoted his working life.