The Anglo-French Impressionist master Alfred Sisley (1839-1899) liked to say that he always started a picture by painting the sky.
Those skies, brilliantly rendered with billowing white cumulus clouds or muted with the golden tones of sunset, are the first things to strike the eye at the Walters Art Gallery's stunning show devoted to the artist's work that opens March 14.
In presenting the first major international retrospective of Sisley's impressionist paintings since the artist's death nearly a century ago, the Walters has pulled off a major cultural coup. The show, which highlights more than 60 of the artist's most luminous landscapes, was organized in cooperation with Britain's Royal Academy of Arts in London and France's Musee d'Orsay in Paris.
Previously seen in London and Paris, the Walters show will be the only appearance of this historic exhibition in the United States. It will draw an expected 100,000 art lovers, scholars and students from across the country to Baltimore during its three-month venue. It also can be expected to mark the beginning of a major critical reappraisal of this long neglected master that will influence scholarly treatments of the subject for generations to come.
This is the most important show the Walters Arts Gallery has presented in recent years. The museum's staff has gone all out to make sure each of these treasures is set off to maximum advantage, pouring painstaking effort into every detail of the installation from the gallery design and arrangement of the pictures on the walls to the lighting of the paintings and the user-friendly labels that identify each work. Museum-goers can also avail themselves of an excellent recorded walking tour of the exhibit that summarizes the painter's personal and artistic development.
Although Sisley studied with and became fast friends with such leading figures of the impressionist school as Renoir, Monet, Cezanne and Bazille, until now his contribution to the revolution that transformed French painting in the 19th century had been relegated to that of a historical footnote. The Walters show offers stunning evidence of how undeserved Sisley's obscurity has been. This is a deeply moving show that will delight and enlighten museum-goers of all ages. It is an experience not to be missed.