Sisley was born in Paris of English parents. After his schooldays, his father, a merchant trading with the southern states of America, sent him to London for a business career, but finding this unpalatable, Sisley returned to Paris in 1862 with the aim of becoming an artist. His family supported him and sent him to Gleyre's studio, where he met Renoir, Monet and Bazille. He spent some time painting in Fontainebleau, at Chailly with Monet, Bazille and Renoir, and later at Marlotte with Renoir. His style at this time was deeply influenced by Courbet and Daubigny, and when he first exhibited at the Salon in 1867 it was as the pupil of Corot. By this time, however, he had started to frequent the Café Guerbois, and was becoming more deeply influenced by the notions which were creating Impressionism.
During the Franco-Prussian war and the period of the Commune, he spent some time in London and was introduced to Durand-Ruel by Pissarro, becoming part of that dealer's stable. In the mean time, his father had lost all his money as a result of the war, and Sisley, with a family to support, was reduced to a state of penury, in which he was to stay until virtually the end of his life. He exhibited with the Impressionist group in 1874, 1876, 1877 and 1882. His work had by this time achieved complete independence from the early influences that had affected him.
Naturally different, he did not promote himself in the way that some of his fellow Impressionists did, and it was only towards the end of his life, when he was dying of cancer of the throat, that he received something approaching the recognition he deserved. With the exception of a short period when he studied in London, Sisley lived all in France. Nevertheless, he failed in his two attempts to become recognized as a naturalized French citizen. He has been a victim, too, of the "national school" approach that long dominated art history, marginalizing him in the art writing of both England and France. His reputation is still overshadowed by those of his friends and colleagues Monet, Renoir and Pissarro.
Like most of the Impressionists, Sisley submitted work to the Salon in the 1860s. His success was as uneven as his colleagues; he was accepted in 1866, 1868 and 1870 while being rejected in 1867 and 1869. He was, from the start, among the core group of the Impressionists, took part in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874 and participated in three others. His painting of these years was at the pure center of the movement; his Flood at Port-Marly of 1876, one of six paintings he made of the subject, is on a par with the best works being made by any of the group at that time.
In the 1870s Sisley produced a remarkable series of landscapes of Argenteuil, where he was living, one of which, The Bridge at Argenteuil,1872; was bought by Manet. Towards the end of the decade Monet was beginning to have a considerable influence on him, and a series of landscape paintings of the area around Paris, including Marly, Bougival and Louveciennes (Floods at Port-Marly, Musée d'Orsay, 1876), shows the way in which his dominant and evident lyricism still respects the demands of the subject-matter. From his early admiration for Corot he retained a passionate interest in the sky, which nearly always dominates his paintings. In this regard, the model of Constable was an important precedent, particularly the brilliant little cloud studies the English artist had done directly from nature. Sisley's compositions often devote half or more of a canvas to the sky.
Another feature that dominates his paintings is the effects of snow -- the two interests often combining to create strangely dramatic effect (Snow at Véneux; Musée d'Orsay, 1880).Unlike many of his colleagues who, from the1880s began questioning some of the original aspects of Impressionism, Sisley continued to remain close to the original aesthetic, painting his visual sensations and the transient moods of nature, making no radical changes of direction. Pissarro, was once asked by Henri Matisse, "What is an Impressionist?" His response was, "a painter who never paints the same picture twice over; all his pictures are different." When Matisse asked him for an example, Pissarro named Sisley.
Sisley's artistic sensibility was nurtured by his attachment to place, in particular to the villages west and
south-east of Paris which he came to know so well by living and working in them.