Sisley moved to Marly-le-Roi, a small town close to the Seine on the western side of Paris, at the beginning of 1875. The preceding year had seen the staging of the first Impressionist group exhibition, as well as a few promising prices for Impressionist pictures at auction. Nonetheless, the wider public remained largely unconvinced by the Impressionist experiment and Sisley's move to Marly was, in part, with a view to saving money on living expenses away from the costs of Paris.
In an effort to further improve his precarious financial position, soon after his move to Marly, Sisley, in collaboration with Monet, Renoir and Berthe Morisot, mounted an auction in an effort to sell their own works - at that time a very unusual move for artists. The sale, held in March 1875 and including seventy-three paintings of which twenty-one were by Sisley, met with little success. Sisley therefore entered the summer of 1875, when he painted the present work, in straitened circumstances.
The present work, La route de Marly-le-Roi, shares with the other pictures executed by Sisley in the seasons following his move to Marly a common thread of structural composure. Taking as their theme the combination of urban and rural motifs, each is carefully built up inter-locking planes, often hinged on the recessive diagonal of a road or pathway. The present work, for instance, relies on the straight, tree-lined road entering the town to form the crux of the composition. Sisley then adds to this a weft of blonde, summer colours, with the green of the screen of trees, the blue of the sky and the warm yellows and golds of the foreground each complementing the other. The handling of the work is also characteristic of his early Marly phase: the brushstrokes begin to lengthen and Sisley exhibits greater freedom in his description of his subject.
The provenance of La route de Marly-le-Roi is distinguished, having been owned in its early years by two very different collectors. It originally belonged to Léon Clapisson, the son of a composer of comic-operas and a patron of other artists of the first Impressionist generation, particularly Renoir, whose portrait of Mme Clapisson from 1883 today hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago (Fig. 1).
The present work was then acquired from the sale following Clapisson's death in 1894 by François Depeaux (1853-1920), the Rouen industrialist who was Sisley's most prominent patron in the 1880s and 1890s. Significantly, in the same years Depeaux was also sponsoring Monet and Pissarro. He entertained both artists on his estate at Le Mesnil-Esnard near Rouen, saw them both in London, and, in 1900, invited Monet's son Michel to his Swansea house, where Sisley had worked three years before. When family complications forced Depeaux to sell his extensive collection in 1901 it included works by Renoir, Pissarro and Monet, as well as forty-six works by Sisley.