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Palazzo dei Diamanti

Alfred Sisley
a Grande Rue, Argenteuil
Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery

Alfred Sisley
Effetto di neve ad Argentuil
Sisley in Italy
by Orietta L'Abate

"Alfred Sisley: Poet of Impressionism," Feb. 17-May 19, 2002, at the Palazzo dei Diamanti, Corso Ercole I d'Este, 21, Ferrara, Italy.

Once in Ferrara, it's impossible to miss the 1493 Palazzo dei Diamanti (Palace of Diamonds) named after the 8,500 diamond-shaped pink marble blocks that clad its external walls.

Now one of the most prestigious European art centers, the Palazzo dei Diamanti is about to open with the first ever Italian exhibition of works by the Impressionist Alfred Sisley, opening Feb. 17, 2002. The show, which is organized chronologically, is a joint effort of Ferrara Arte with the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid and the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon.

About Sisley, Matisse is said to have remarked, "A Cézanne is a moment in the artist's life; a Sisley is a moment in nature." In fact, Sisley's lyricism has its roots in the painting of the English artist John Constable, whom Sisley deeply admired. Sisley remained faithful to both Impressionism and to nature throughout his life, never abandoning his "luminous and light colours, applied with short and definite brush strokes, intended to capture instants of moist light or breezy air."

The art critic Camille Mauclair said of Sisley's landscapes from the 1870s and '80s, "He's the painter of the wide blue rivers… of the blooming fruit orchards... of the French skies."

The exhibition's curators, Royal Academy senior curator May Anne Stevens and French art historian Anne Dumas, have devised an itinerary starting from the few surviving painting of the 1860s, and proceeding through the country-side atmospheres that were dear to Sisley: Louveciennes, Argentuil under the snow, the flood at Port-Marly, the coldness of the Seine river at Bougival, the luminous landscape of Saint-Mammes, the burnt-out shores of Wales, the warm sunset at Moret-sur-Long.

In Sisley's water and sky "don't appear like a mere background," as Dumas writes, but rather carry the same chromatic strength, they become symbiotic protagonists of the painting, while the rest of nature floats in between, likewise a story told while the universe watches. And in between skies twinned to cobalt blue waters, Sisley's short brush stokes of mauve, aquamarine and silver accents enliven landscapes where the human figure appears only occasionally.

Finally, there is Sisley's church in Moret, a subject that he painted countless times, in a series of works similar to his friend Monet's passion for the cathedral in Rouen -- two individual symphonies of these painters' palettes.

ORIETTA L'ABATE is an architect who lives in Italy.

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