In tonight’s episode of The Art of France, Andrew Graham-Dixon focuses on Impressionism, when Monet and his contemporaries reinvented the rules of painting in the late 19th century.
Normandy was the birthplace and home of many of the Impressionists including Monet. Inspired by the unique light, beauty and mystery of this region, painters set up their easels both along the Channel coast and the banks of the Seine.
Here are five of the best places to appreciate this revolutionary art movement and sample Normandy’s delights for yourself.
1. Le Havre
Boudin’s Studies of Cows in MuMa, Le Havre; photo by L Maisant
Le Havre was the setting for Claude Monet’s famous 1872 painting Impression, soleil levant (Impression, sunrise), which gave Impressionism its name. See where this canvas and many others were painted by downloading an app and taking a self-guided tour of the city. Monet’s masterpiece will return to Le Havre from 9 September and 8 October, and be displayed at the André Malraux Museum of Modern Art (MuMa). Venture slightly out of town and you can even take an Impressionist-themed cookery class with Chef Régine Boidin in her stunning manor house.
Honfleur’s quayside; photo by Calvados Tourisme
A charming fishing port, Honfleur looks much as it did when the Impressionists used to set up their easels on the quayside. Honfleur-born Eugène Boudin was a strong influence on Monet, and the two would drag fellow renegade artists such as Sisley, Pissarro and Renoir to the Ferme Saint-Simeon just outside Honfleur, where they would spend hours at a time painting the changing colours of the Seine estuary. Marvel at their paintings at the Eugène Boudin Museum, and enjoy a spot of lunch and stunning views at the Ferme Saint-Simeon, which is now a 5-star hotel and restaurant.
Rouen’s half-timbered houses; photo by V Joannon
Rouen had its moment of glory when Monet devoted some 30 canvasses to the façade of Notre Dame Cathedral – painted at various times of day to capture the changing light – which would become one of his best-loved series. Take a guided tour of the city, discover the half-timbered houses and narrow streets that Monet and Pissarro so loved, and stop by the Fine Arts Museum to view its Impressionist collection. Sample the “Saveurs Impressionnistes” menu at La Couronne, the oldest inn in France and, if you’re feeling inspired, take a painting lesson in the very workshop from which Monet painted his famous cathedral series!
Étretat cliffs; photo by M G Cicment
The majestic white cliffs of Étretat are world-famous. Nature has carved extraordinary arches in the chalk either side of the resort, as well as an amazing needle-like structure. This extraordinary site drew Impressionist painters aplenty, and Monet interpreted many of the scenes along this coast, as did Boudin, Pissarro and Courbey. Grab a map from the tourist office and take a self-guided tour of the cliff tops, feast your eyes on not only the stunning rock formations admired by the Impressionists, but all the flora and fauna. If you’re feeling sporty, why not enjoy a quick round of golf against one of France’s most famous backdrops?
Giverny’s Japanese bridge; photo by D Dumas
No Impressionist bucket list would be complete without a visit to Giverny. This pretty village on the banks of the Seine was Monet’s home band the artistic inspiration behind his dreamy water lily ponds. Take a stroll around Monet’s extensive gardens (see main picture above), walk across the famous Japanese bridge and take a tour of his home, lovingly restored some fifty years after his death. Step back in time and dine at the Restaurant Baudy, former watering hole of Monet, Cézanne, Renoir and Sisley, complete with 1900s décor and artists’ studio in the garden. And before you head off, be sure to stop by the Musée des Impressionnismes, which is well worth a visit.
For more information about the birthplace of Impressionism, visit: normandy-tourism.org/impressionism
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