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Site of the Royal Pavilion, Marly

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Michael Kenna, British, b. 1953
Site of the Royal Pavilion, Marly, 1996
Gelatin silver print on paper
7 1/2 in. x 7 3/4 in. (19.05 cm x 19.69 cm)

Object Type: Photography
Technique: Photography
Credit Line: Purchase, Scripps Collectors' Circle
Accession Number: 2012.2.20

As sole reminder of the architectural splendor that was Marly, marble pavers arranged on a graveled plateau mark the site of Louis XIV’s celebrated Pavillon du Soleil. This structure featured a central octagonal salon for courtly amusements. Adjoining it were four apartments reserved exclusively for members of the royal family. To the right of the leafless bosquet of trees in Michael Kenna’s image, the axial line traversed a series of majestic terraces that lead to the Seine valley below, all the way to Paris. From his raised pavilion, the King viewed all twelve guest quarters that stood facing each other in two symmetrical rows of six above the massive reflection pools of the lower precincts of the site. An iconographical program based on solar symbolism was central to the scheme established by Hardouin-Mansard in 1679. In it, the twelve months and the twelve signs of the zodiac were alluded to by the intimate guest structures, which seemingly revolved around the Sun King’s quarters. Marly’s solar message was further elaborated in the sculptural program of the vast gardens. Louis XIV’s control over the axis expressed here at Marly matched the same hierarchal agenda as the one established two decades earlier by André Le Nôtre at Versailles. The Duc de Saint-Simon mused, “Louis XIV had constructed Versailles for the Court of France… Marly for his friends.”

The immense terraced pools, the defining feature of Marly’s physiognomy, constituted one of the most impressive uses of water in any 17th-century formal garden. Guest residences were linked by an intricate system of outdoor passages covered with honeysuckle and jasmine. In a vast array of forms maintained by four hundred gardeners, verdant architecture – from cabinets and berceaux to portiques and colonnades – was writ large on this landscape. So was the horticultural program. During a period of only four years, eighteen million bulbs were planted here. An escape to the simple pleasures, Marly was said to have cost almost half as much as the mighty Versailles. And although nothing remains today of the pavilions and formal gardens, their broad outlines recall one of the most opulent landscapes of the Sun King’s era. In capturing the subtle contours of the Pavillon du Soleil’s foundation, Kenna’s image is a Proustian talisman of the once-sumptuous past of this privileged site, a royal hermitage now lost forever.

Eric T. Haskell
Professor of French & Humanities
Director, Clark Humanities Museum
Scripps College


Enshrouded in haze and backed by ominous, leafless trees lay the foundations of Louis XIV’s Pavillon du Soleil, remnants of a salon in his Château de Marly. 17th century Marly was Louis XIV’s home, open only to his most intimate friends and family; invitations to the château were intensely coveted. Marly boasted 12 guest quarters—arranged in 2 rows of 6 facing each other—striking reflection pools, and elaborately adorned walkways. With the Sun King’s quarters elevated above those of his guests, Marly demonstrated Louis XIV’s unparalleled control over landscape and architecture in much the same way that Versailles’s opulence did. Site of the Royal Pavilion invokes the 17th century image of the château. Rather than simply photographing what is seen, Kenna highlights the fragile and fleeting nature of our world.
Laura Woods, SCR ’18

Front, in pencil -
lower left: 3/45
lower right: signature, 1996
Back of mounting -
top right - KE697
lower, midsection: title, year (negative, 1996, print, 1996), limited edition text, signature,

sepia-toned silver gelatin photographic print

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