The most distinctive feature of this study is the flattening of form through the use of a restricted palette: tonality and the dispersal of light are emphasized at the expense of detail. Aligny’s discovery of this approach to sketching out of doors came about in tandem with his drawing practice. Aligny developed the technique in the 1820s, first alongside his companion Camille Corot in Italy and later in the Forest of Fontainebleau. Characteristic of drawings in this vein is Castello Colonna at Genazzano (MMA 1989.23), in which line is employed in such a way that the forms and voids they define achieve varying degrees of vibrancy. The origins of this tonalism have been explained as the direct response of artists from north of the Alps to working under the bright sun of the South, which tends to suppress detail in the full light of day (see Lynne D. Ambrosini, "Peasants in French Painting, 1815–1848: The Romantic Roots of the Realist Mode," Ph.D. dissertation, Insitute of Fine Arts, New York University, 1989, pp. 406–8). It may have been introduced by the Nazarene school of German painters who were active in Rome at the same time as Aligny and Corot (see Marie Lørdrup Bang, Johan Christian Dahl 1788–1857: Life and Works, Oslo, 1987, vol. 1, pp. 49–51, 194–95 nn.).
Aubrun (1979) identified the subject depicted here as a view in the park of the château of Mortefontaine near Senlis, northeast of Paris. She posited a date of ca. 1850–55, that is, between Aligny’s documented visits to Mortefontaine in 1850–51 and his completion of two paintings for the Salon of 1859. Only one of these paintings, both of which were exhibited under the title View in the Park at Mortefontaine (nos. 23 and 24), has been identified (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyons, inv. X-833; see Aubrun 1988, no. 129). Conisbee (1980), while noting that Corot also worked at Mortefontaine in the 1850s, was implicitly reticent about identifying the site, however.
[Asher Ethan Miller 2013]