ALFRED SISLEY (1839-1899)
ALFRED SISLEY (1839-1899)
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ALFRED SISLEY (1839-1899)

La Machine de Marly et le barrage, Bougival

Details
ALFRED SISLEY (1839-1899)
La Machine de Marly et le barrage, Bougival
signed and dated 'Sisley. 75.' (lower right)
oil on canvas
15 1/8 x 18 1/4 in. (38.3 x 46.3 cm.)
Painted in 1875
Provenance
M. Picq-Véron, Ermont-Eaubonne.
Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris, by whom acquired from the above on 25 June 1892.
Albert Henraux, Paris, by whom acquired from the above on 1 February 1933.
Jean Ribault-Menetière, Paris, by 1957.
Wildenstein & Co., Paris.
Florence J. Gould, by whom acquired from the above on 27 December 1962; her sale, Sotheby's, New York, 24 April 1985, lot 17.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Literature
C.- L. Borgmeyer, 'The Master Impressionists', in Fine Arts Journal, vol. 28, no. 4, Chicago, 1913, p. 213 (illustrated, titled 'The Sluice').
F. Daulte, Alfred Sisley, Catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre peint, Lausanne, 1959, no. 174 (illustrated).
J. Lassaigne & S. Gache-Patin, Sisley, Paris, 1983, no. 139, pp. 98-99 (illustrated p. 99).
S. Brame & F. Lorenceau, Alfred Sisley, Catalogue critique des peintures et des pastels, Lausanne, 2021, no. 163, pp. 93 & 428 (illustrated).
Exhibited
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Vincent van Gogh en zijn Tijdegenooten, September - November 1930.
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir et Sisley, 1933, no. 39.
Paris, Galerie Charpentier, Paysages de France, November 1945, no. 94 (illustrated; titled 'Le Barrage à Marly').
Bern, Kunstmuseum, Alfred Sisley, February - April 1958, no. 22 (illustrated pl. XI).
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Alfred Sisley, February - March 1971, no. 23.
Special notice
This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice. Christie’s has a direct financial interest in this lot. Christie’s has guaranteed to the seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee.

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Lot Essay

The outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 forced Alfred Sisley to relocate with his family to the village of Louveciennes, situated on the river Seine. In the winter of 1874 they moved to the neighbouring Marly-le-Roi, keeping within an easy access to the capital, which was important to the artist. As Mary Anne Stevens points out: ‘Sisley’s own movements from Louveciennes, Marly-le-Roi and then to Sèvres are symptomatic of a man who was pre-eminently a landscape painter but needed to be near Paris in order to remain in touch with the apparatus of the art market’ (M.A. Stevens, ed., Alfred Sisley, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1992, p. 17).

The neighbouring villages of Marly, Louveciennes, and Bougival, where the present work was painted, served as a particular source of inspiration for the artist. By the 1860s, Bougival, situated between Port Marly and Chatou, had become a popular resort for Parisians. As Stevens describes it: ‘Lying slightly further away from the centre of Paris and thus as yet untouched by the spreading suburban industrialisation and urban growth which had already hit towns closer in, Bougival’s river banks retained traditional small-scale industries such as saw mills, sand extraction’ or the pumping station – the Machine de Marly. (Ibid, p. 116).

Bougival, with its buildings picturesquely clustered along the river bank, the tree-lined paths and a number of bathing places meant that the area soon became a crowded leisure resort, celebrated by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Claude Monet in their many depictions of the Parisian crowds. Sisley, on the other hand, was not so much interested in portraying the visitors and strollers from Paris. Instead, he focused on capturing the local industries, such as the sand extraction or the pumping station in Bougival, in their most mundane and tranquil of states. Brettell has commented on Sisley’s interest in the economic aspect of the river Seine. ‘More than any other Impressionist, Sisley was fascinated by the complexity of river life. Less interested in pleasure craft and their passengers than his friend Monet, Sisley preferred to render the economically important boat life of the Seine’ (R. Brettell, A Day in the Country: Impressionism and the French Landscape, exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, June 1984 - April 1985, p. 102).

The Machine de Marly was a prominent local landmark, and became a common subject for the Impressionists such as Sisley, Camille Pissarro and Gustave Caillebotte who, like Sisley, also captured the pumping station in 1875. Commissioned by Louis XIV in 1681, the station was designed to lift water from the river Seine some 154 metres to supply the basins and fountains of the parks at Marly and Versailles. Originally made of iron and wood, the cumbersome structure was replaced between 1855 and 1859 by Napoleon III with an edifice which consisted of a stone dyke, a brick shed and a steam-driven pumping house, topped by a tall chimney.

The present work from 1875, La Machine de Marly et le barrage, Bougival offers a view of the pumping station at Marly and speaks to Sisley’s fascination with the subject and its surrounding banks of the river Seine. Sisley positioned himself on the opposite side of the river to capture the pumping house from across, offering a wide perspective which incorporated the full width of the river Seine. Although the machine prominently features in the work, the landscape in itself and its purity was important to Sisley. By positioning the building to the far left of the composition, he brought attention to the blues of the vast sky and the wide river. The dominance of the sky and the water is intentional and offers an opportunity to convey particular mood and atmosphere of calming haziness beaming from the painting. ‘Sisley considers correctly that it is the sky which ought to be the means by which the shape of objects is described for the sky should not be solely a backdrop for painting – on the contract, its many layers define the depth in a painting’ (quoted in M.A. Stevens, op. cit., p. 116).

Sisley succeeded in capturing the tranquillity and peacefulness of the Machine de Marly and its surroundings by treating the subject with a gentle and considerate approach. The structures of the pumping station, which in its very nature may be harsh, here appear almost as ethereal and transient as in its impressively captured reflection in the river, broken down into hundreds of strokes. By incorporating the river’s whole width into the composition, Sisley created an area for exploring the intricacy and yet a slight frivolousness of the reflection itself.

Sisley drew upon the subject of the Machine de Marly for at least six other paintings, one of which, painted in 1876, is currently in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Positioning the building of the pumping station in different parts of the canvas with a different degree of focus and using it as a closing device in the background of two views of the river Seine lends itself to Sisley’s procedure of ‘mapping’. According to Stevens ‘this persistent investigation of a specific motif and its relationship to a larger landscape can be seen as part of Sisley’s procedure for ‘mapping’ his visual and personal landscapes’ (M.A. Stevens, op. cit., p. 122).

The paintings that Sisley executed at Marly between 1875 and 1877 are widely considered some of the most beautiful and impressive of the artist's career. Richard Shone calls this ‘the period of some of his greatest landscapes’ (R. Shone, Sisley, London, 1992, p. 85) and Christopher Lloyd regards them as ‘some of the finest pictures in his [Sisley’s] œuvre ’ (C. Lloyd ‘Marly-le-Roi and Sevres: 1875-1880,’ in M.A. Stevens, op. cit., p. 149).

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