A Sisley painting of the south Wales coast

La falaise a Penarth, le soir, marée basseby Alfred Sisley
La falaise a Penarth, le soir, marée basse by Alfred Sisley
The view at the same location today
The view at the same location today

Sisley and south Wales

Within the Museum's art collections is a view of the south Wales coast painted by Alfred Sisley - La falaise a Penarth, le soir, marée basse ('The cliff at Penarth, the evening, low tide'). Sisley's coastal views of 1897 are the only pictures of Wales ever painted by a leading Impressionist.

The first Impressionist exhibition

Born in Paris in 1839 to British parents, Alfred Sisley became a leading member of the circle of young painters who stood in opposition to the traditional art taught at the French Académie. In 1874, this group mounted the show that has gone down in history as the 'First Impressionist Exhibition'. Sisley participated in three of the next seven shows organized by the Impressionists between 1876 and 1886.

He never enjoyed the success of his friends Monet, Renoir and Pissarro and in 1882 he withdrew to the small town of Moret-sur-Loing near Fontainebleau, where he worked for the rest of his career, dying there in 1899.

Sisley paints south Wales

In the summer of 1897, Sisley visited south Wales, staying at 4 Clive Place, Penarth and on 5 August he married Eugenié Lescouezec at Cardiff Town Hall.

Sisley found Penarth stimulating. On 16 July he wrote "I have been here for a week ... The countryside is very pretty and the Roads with the big ships sailing into and out of Cardiff, is superb ... I don't know how long I shall stay at Penarth. I am very comfortable here, 'in lodgings' with some very decent folk. The climate is very mild, and has indeed been too hot these last few days, especially now as I write. I hope to make good use of what I see around me and to return to Moret in October, or thereabouts".

Sisley's 19 or so oil paintings of Penarth and Langland Bay near Swansea (where he stayed from 15 August until his return to Moret on 1 October) are his only sea pieces and show the energy and excitement of a new discovery. The Penarth seascapes are more atmospheric than the Langland views, which capture the intense heat and light of the Gower Peninsula.

Six Penarth views have so far been identified. One shows a tree at the cliff's edge with shipping and Penarth Pier in the background. Two show the view northwards up the Bristol Channel and three show the view southwards looking along the cliff's edge towards Lavernock. La falaise a Penarth is one of these southward looking views.

The evening light rakes sharply from the west, casting a mauvish shadow from the steep cliff over the beach below. It depicts low tide, with the rocks of Ranny Point and Lavernock Point clearly visible.

On 4 October 1897 an article in the French paper Le Journal observed: "The Impressionist master has brought back from Penarth and Langland Bay a series of admirable sea pieces, in which the strange flavour of that landscape, little frequented by painters, is rendered with an art that is as captivating as it is personal."

Sisley's vision marks a fundamental change in the interpretation of the Welsh landscape, replacing the Romantic outlook of Turner and his successors. He and his fellow Impressionists blazed a trail for the next generation, led by the native Welsh artists Augustus John and James Dickson Innes.

Article Date: 6 July 2007

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