Alfred Sisley

Aqueduct at Marly by Alfred Sisley

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Rolled Canvas
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A relic of France’s royal past, the aqueduct at Marly-le-roi on the outskirts of Paris rises majestically against a brilliant autumn sky in Impressionist Alfred Sisley’s painting. It had been built in the 1600s as part of a complicated waterworks system designed to pump and carry water from the Seine to the elaborate cascades and fountains of the king’s gardens at Château de Marly and Versailles. Inoperable for about a decade at the time of this painting, the aqueduct remained a draw for tourists. However, Sisley includes only a lone horseman—a member of the local militia—passing by as if oblivious to the towering structure. The horseman’s presence serves to emphasize the note of isolation and neglect, as the aqueduct seems slowly encroached upon by the landscape in which it nestles. The slow undermining of the solidity of the man-made structure by the ever-changing nature around it is enhanced by Sisley’s quick and varied brushwork, which creates a sense of shimmering impermanence.