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Sisley painted this winter scene in the small village of Marly-le-Roi in early 1875, soon after he moved there. The village was the site of the Château de Marly, which had been built in the late seventeenth century for Louis XIV, King of France, as a retreat from Versailles. It was later demolished. The watering place in the foreground of the picture was one of the last remnants of the château’s grand water gardens. Sisley lived very close by and painted almost 20 pictures that include it.
He very probably worked on the picture outdoors in one sitting: it looks as though it was painted quickly using a limited range of colours. The paint has been thinly applied and the rapid brushwork is clearly visible, particularly in the foreground. A few details and colour highlights were added once the paint had dried.
Alfred Sisley painted this winter scene in the small village of Marly-le-Roi in early 1875, soon after he moved there. Around 18 kilometres west of the centre of Paris, Marly-le-Roi was the site of the Château de Marly, which had been built for Louis XIV, King of France, in the late seventeenth century. Intended to be a retreat from the more formal court at Versailles, the château was known for its grand water gardens, which included fountains, cascades and a series of terraced pools that reflected the royal buildings. The gardens were maintained by water pumped from the Seine via an aqueduct which filled reservoirs in the park at Marly.
Although the château was demolished after the Revolution in 1789, traces of the area’s royal history remained. Since the beginning of the 1870s, Sisley had been interested in sites with vestiges of the Ancien Régime (‘old regime’) of pre-Revolutionary France. Several of his paintings around Marly-le-Roi included the pumping station (restored in the 1850s) and remains of the aqueduct. In Marly itself, he often painted the watering place for horses, one of the last remnants of the royal water garden, which functioned as an overflow at the edge of the park. Sisley’s house was very close by, and during the two years he lived in the village he painted almost 20 pictures that show this watering place, including several snow scenes from 1875. These paintings might be regarded as an informal series, as Sisley focused on the same subject seen from different viewpoints and under different conditions.
In this picture we are looking southeast from the place de l’Abreuvoir, close to Sisley’s house at 2 avenue de l'Abreuvoir. The watering place is in the foreground, its surface frozen except for a dark area to the right where water pours in from an outlet. Just beyond the pool is the buttressed boundary wall of the park on the left and an unpaved road heading south up the hill to Louveciennes. The road gives a strong vertical emphasis to the picture and counterbalances the horizontals of the pool and stone wall. The pool itself is just one element of the picture, and Sisley is equally interested in the sky, the trees and the small houses that fill the landscape on the left.
Sisley very probably worked on the picture in one sitting: it looks as though it was painted rapidly. In many areas, the buff brown of the undercoat (ground) can still be seen. The paint itself has been applied thinly and the swift, almost rough, brushwork is clearly visible, particularly in the foreground. Having sketched in the composition using dark paint, Sisley built up the scene with lighter tones using only a limited range of colours, including a mauve-tinted blue and chrome yellow, as well as black and white. Detail has been added with further reworking directly into the wet paint. Tiny marks in the top left corner left by canvas pins used to separate wet paintings suggest the picture was painted outdoors and then carried home. A few colour highlights – such as the dab of violet above the waterpump – were added once the paint had dried.
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