Alfred Sisley: L'inondation à Port-Marly

Alfred Sisley: L'inondation à Port-Marly (1876) Paris, Orsay



Alfred Sisley: L'inondation à Port-Marly

Alfred Sisley: L'inondation à Port-Marly (1876) Paris, Orsay

AFTER THE FLOOD: ALFRED SISLEY IN PORT-MARLY

The floods in Port-Marly painted by Alfred Sisley

by G. Fernández - theartwolf.com
When talking about Impressionism, an error is often committed when assigning to this movement a series of painters who nothing or almost nothing had in common with it -Rousseau, Redon-, or others who, despite having felt an early attraction to the new movement, soon separated from it -Paul Gauguin, Paul Cézanne- or even others who, though being generally considered as representative members of this movement, can not be called "pure impressionists". In this last group, we have to differentiate between those who develop his style before the impressionist dawn - Edouard Manet- and those whose interests led them to search even beyond the Impressionism -Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir-. If we want to look for the "pure", essential impressionist painters, those who developed their impressionist style without interferences from any other style, the list -with the risk of use a dangerously simplistic purism- would be reduced to only three names: Claude Monet -the real Michelangelo of the impressionist era-, Camille Pissarro -the great chronicler of the rural life- and Alfred Sisley.

Alfred Sisley (1839-1899) was above all a landscape painter. Less gifted than Monet (or even than Pissarro), Sisley always felt an artistic attraction for the fluvial landscape. In that sense, his unquestionable masterworks are a group of canvases, painted in 1872 and 1876, depicting the floods of the Seine River in the French town of Port-Marly.

Sisley painted several canvases depicting these floods in Port-Marly, but the two most outstanding examples are those showing the river's waters around a wine shop in the Rue of Paris. We must remark that several painters, for example Claude Monet, had already represented the floods of the Seine River, but Sisley was the first to depict this natural incident affecting to inhabited places. The horizon line, unusually low, closely resembles to the views created by the artists of the Delft School and the views of Venice painted by Joseph Mallord William Turner, an artist whose works Sisley had the opportunity to watch during a trip to London. Interestingly, the different views painted by Sisley have a similar composition: the architecture present at the left area of the canvas divides the picture in two parts: at the left we can see the flood affecting to the human and constructed environment, while the natural and vegetal elements emerge from the waters at the right area of the composition.

Contrary to most of the paintings depicting natural disasters, Sisley did not add to the composition any tragic or catastrophist element. We see neither demolished buildings, nor fallen trees, nor bridges dragged by the force of waters. The aspect of the sky, far from being threatening, is hopeful, with great blue spaces appearing among the clouds. The personages in the boats remind more to placid Venetians gondoliers than to scared neighbours trying to save their personal objects from the force of the waters.

A precocious painter, member of a wealthy family, Alfred Sisley soon met the great impressionist painters of his era, and he was admitted in the Salon of 1866. However, his comfortable way of life was truncated in later years. The Franco-Prussian war of 1870 completely bankrupted his family, sending him to a poverty that would accompany him for the rest of his life. Rejected by all Art galleries, only Durand-Ruel bought him a few paintings. Thus, we can suggest a link between these paintings and the turbulent biography of their creator: it is possible that Sisley saw the floods in the quiet town of Port-Marly as a reflection of his own life, troubled, overflowed, after events as unforeseeable and inevitable as the floods of the Seine River .

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