Thursday, September 07, 2006

Nice Day for a Welsh Wedding

Why did Alfred Sisley get married in Cardiff in 1897? Don't get me wrong the capital city is as good a place as any to get spliced. But why after having lived with his mistress Eugenie Lescouezec for 30 years did the 57-year-old French Impressionist suddenly decide to make an honest woman of her? And whilst on a trip to Wales...

Alfred and Eugenie lodged at 4 Clive Place, Penarth, during July and August of 1897. Maybe there was something in the air there that demanded bourgeois respectability. It just wasn't the kind of place where people lived in sin. His landlady was a Mrs Thomas, a coal merchant's wife, whose cooking he found deplorable.

He admired the local views though and was fascinated by the Bristol Channel's huge tidal shifts. Each day he would pitch his easel on the cliffs and attempt to capture the scene. Sisley's Welsh paintings (approximately 19 of them) are unique in his catalogue as they are his only marine works. Another peculiar departure.

After their nuptials at Cardiff City Hall on August 5 the newlyweds made their way down the coast to Langland Bay for their honeymoon. They stayed at the Osborne Hotel where the great artist had trouble sleeping because of the chain-mail beds. Once again he was impressed by the superb coastline and abandoned his bride to paint the sea.

During his stay he produced a remarkable series of paintings depicting Storr's rock - a strange boulder at Lady's Cove (now called Rotherslade Bay) that appears to have fallen straight out of the sky. He painted 5 versions of it at different times of the day. They are amongst his best works.

Perhaps there's a clue to his sudden marriage in this artistic obsession. The pictures contrast the stillness and solidity of the rock with the ever-shifting light and movement of the sea beyond. Who knows, maybe he was just going through a process of consolidation during the autumn of his life.

Almost exactly a year after leaving Wales Eugenie died of cancer. Within three months Sisley was also dead having suffered from cancer of the throat.

One of Sisley's Storr's rock paintings can be seen at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, along with other examples of his work.