GALLERIES by Leigh Hatts
THERE is a steady flow of visitors at the Royal Academy of Arts where the Sisley exhibition is the main attraction. This is the first major retrospective of his work, bringing together over 60 landscapes.
A highlight of Alfred Sisley (daily until October 18; £6) is the Hampton Court series featuring the River Thames. The most famous shows Hampton Court Bridge and the 17th century Mitre Inn. Sadly, this pub has closed and as the exhibition opened. a huge hoarding went up outside masking not only the splendid building but also the castellated ahutments of the old bridge which features in Sisley's paintings.
Nicholas Reed, an authority on the Impressionists and their London connections. had hoped to persuade the brewery to hang Sisley reproductions in its bars. Instead he has produced an "alternative" catalogue called Sisley and the Thames 1£4.95 from the RA) with
much original research which Mary Anne Stevens has drawn on for her mighty Alfred Sisley (Yates, £.19.95). This is not just the official exhibition catalogue but one of the most richly illustrated publications to be found in bookshops.
The exhibition established his place within the history of Impressionism. for although Sisley was most loyal to the original aims he has been the least well known. Confusingly he was born of English parents in Paris and set out to be a businessman in the home country he had never known.
Fortunately. he was distracted by Constable's paintings of waterways in the National Gallery and decided to be an artist. Like Constable, Sisley painted scenes he knew best and his trip to Hampton Court some years later in 1874 had much to do with finding an area similar to the Seine riverside he usually painted.
Rue de la Machine, Louveciennes is a grand road built for royalty and The Machine de Manly shows the aquaduct taking water from the river to the Chateau de Many. Both features can be found at Hampton Court which also lies on a river outside a great capital. Even the chestnut tree he painted near La CelleSaint-Cloud could be found in Bushey Park near the Mitre.
The most fascinating picture is the view under the length of Hampton Court Bridge. This is an avenue of piers rather than trees along a straight French road. He had already included the underside of a river crossing in The Bridge of Villeneuve-la-Garenne two years earlier. This painting can be compared to Hampton Court Bridge showing the upper floors of the Mitre.
Twenty years on Sisley used the same composition for Moret Bridge. This time The Mitre has been replaced by the church. It is this church which Sisley chose to give the Monet Rouen Cathedral treatment by painting its west end through changing weathers and seasons. He even found the same southwesterly position, although Sisley sat outdoors rather than in a shop window. The two artists' vigils overlap by one year 1893.
We do not know if Sisley was aware of Monet's Rouen series. The artists were colleagues but Sisley was not successful and never gut round to showing his all together.
He sold nothing at his final exhibition. But just months after his death the pictures started fetching high prices.
A century on Sisley follows Monet in being honoured at the RA whilst the once popular Mitre Inn has lost its appeal.