Misty Morning (1874) by Alfred Sisley
Interpretation of Impressionist Plein-Air Landscape Painting

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Misty Morning (Fog, Voisins)
By Sisley.
Regarded as one of the
greatest modern paintings of
the nineteenth century.

Misty Morning (1874)


Analysis of Misty Morning
Explanation of Other Impressionist Landscape Paintings


Name: Misty Morning (Le brouillard, Voisins) (1874)
Artist: Alfred Sisley (1839-1899)
Medium: Oil painting on canvas
Genre: Landscape painting
Movement: French Impressionism
Location: Musee d'Orsay, Paris

For an interpretation of other pictures from the 19th and 20th centuries, see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).


See: How to Appreciate Art.


Arguably the least appreciated of all the original Impressionist painters, Sisley was born in Paris, to English parents - his father was a wealthy businessman based in Paris - and spent almost all his life in France. Deciding against a commercial career he turned to painting and entered the famous studio of Charles Gleyre (1808-74), where he became friends with Claude Monet (1840-1926), Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) and Frederic Bazille (1841-70). In fact, Sisley, together with Monet, Renoir and Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), became one of the leading practitioners of plein-air painting, the outdoor form of Impressionist landscape art, which focused on the capture of fleeting moments of colour and light. See: Characteristics of Impressionism 1870-1930.

Until 1870, Sisley was supported by a generous allowance from his father, but the family business collapsed due to the Franco-Prussian war (July 1870 - May 1871). To reduce costs, Sisley settled at Voisins, a village near Louveciennes in Seine-et-Oise. After 1870, he no longer exhibited at the official Salons. He became a member of the independent movement and sent five canvases (including Misty Morning) to the first of the Impressionist Exhibitions at Nadar's studio in 1874. His work made the public laugh, and his success was no greater at the two following exhibitions in 1876 and 1877. His financial position did not improve; life was hard for him and his family, not least because - unlike his Impressionist friends - he could not turn to portrait art to earn money. But he did not let himself be discouraged and, with almost heroic tenacity, he continued to paint and transmit to canvas the serenity of the countryside. For at no time during his miserable existence did Sisley's art reveal anything of his privations, or the disdain with which he was treated all the time. His canvases were always filled with a subtle harmony, bathed in silence and poetic restraint.

For some of Sisley's best paintings, see the urban waterscape Canal St Martin (1870); the summer landscape Chemin de la Machine (1873); and the lonely snowscape Snow at Louveciennes (1878).

NOTE: For the story behind French Impressionism and the group of young artists who started it, please see our 10-part series, beginning: Impressionism: Origins, Influences.

Analysis of Misty Morning by Alfred Sisley

This picture, Misty Morning (also known as Fog, Voisins), is an example of this calm, moral simplicity. It was painted at Voisin, near Louveciennes. Beside a tree with twisted branches, a peasant woman is picking some herbs in her garden on a misty day in spring, for there are bushes in bloom. In the background is the outline of a fence. All this is seen through a silvery fog, which muffles the light, dwarfs the shapes of objects, and gives a blue-grey tone to the whole. This is not the thick London fog which both Monet and Sisley himself had known on the banks of the Thames, and which buries completely bridges and monuments. Nor is it the atmosphere of the snow-covered countryside, which is clearer and firmer. Although Sisley certainly was unaware of the resemblance, one is reminded here of the mysterious 'mornings' of Camille Corot (1796-1875), that most lyrical painter of the Barbizon School.



In contrast to many of his other landscapes in which the brushwork is much more vigorous, the brushwork in Misty Morning is very light and delicate, as is his palette of blues, pinks and greens. Like Monet, Sisley varied his brushwork, even within the same painting, depending on the effect he was trying to create. This is one reason why his Impressionist landscape painting tends to resonate with a feeling of life and vitality. In Misty Morning, he provides us with a masterpiece of Impressionist observation, in which an ordinary country scene - softened and enveloped in the mist - positively exudes a sense of clammy dampness and shows why Sisley is at last becoming recognized as one of the best landscape artists of the late 19th century.

Explanation of Other Impressionist Landscape Paintings

La Grenouillere (1869) by Monet.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Poppy Field (Argenteuil) (1873) by Monet.
Musee d'Orsay.

The House of the Hanged Man (1873) by Paul Cezanne.
Musee d'Orsay.

Path Leading Through Tall Grass (1877) by Renoir.
Musee d'Orsay.

Vegetable Garden with Trees in Blossom, Spring, Pontoise (1877) Pissarro.
Musee d'Orsay.

The Bridge at Maincy (1879) by Paul Cezanne.
Musee d'Orsay.

• For an explanation of other Impressionist landscapes, see: Homepage.

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