France Regions

Visiting Impressionism at its Roots

While visiting Normandy, you just may feel as if you are walking through a painting. Impressionism: the vibrant colors, sweeping landscapes, and charming villages are so picturesque, you may start to wonder if, in fact, they are real. You can rest assured that everything in this region is real and authentic. Perhaps that is the reason why so many painters came to Normandy to stir up their creative juices. Come and see for yourself how art and life harmoniously coexist in this gorgeous region.

Visiting Impressionism at its Roots: The famous bridge at Monet's garden near Giverny.
The famous bridge at Monet’s garden near Giverny.

In the 19th century, Impressionism was born in Le Havre, Normandy close to the lovely fishing town of Honfleur. This style of art was seen as a revolution due to the fact that it focused on everyday situations and settings. No longer did artists depict events of days gone by or imaginary settings. They turned to life for inspiration – real people, real landscapes, real towns, real events. Artists flocked to Normandy, immediately drawn to its surpassing beauty and incredible realness. Eugene Boudin was one of the forefathers of Impressionism and acted as a mentor to many up and coming artists such as the well known Claude Monet. Boudin’s paintings of Normandy’s sea and sky were in the First Impressionist Exhibition of 1874 and piqued an interest in many young artists to utilize his technique and artistic philosophy.

The waterway in Honfleur, France.
The waterway in Honfleur, France.

Today, Normandy is a haven for art lovers. Start on the coast in Honfleur, the birthplace of impressionism, an attractive fishing town with characteristic narrow timbered houses. In addition, head to the Alabaster coast to the towns of Dieppe, Fécamp, Yport, Etretat at Le Havre, all of which have been immortalized by painters such as Boudin, Monet, Pissaro, Sickert, Morisot and Noel.

Impressionism in Towns Throughout the Region

Follow the Seine inland for the Normandy countryside, passing popular artist towns such as Caudebec-en Caux and La Bouille. Sprawling green fields, hilly pastures, quaint villages and typical Norman gardens are just some of the beautiful things that have inspired artists in the past and will take your breath away. In Rouen, the capital of Normandy, the famous gothic cathedral which Claude Monet captured perfectly in his series of paintings from 1892-1894, basks in its own beauty in the center of town.

But that’s not it. Giverny, the small town just an hour out of Paris, is possibly the most famous impressionist town. Here, you can find Claude Monet’s House and Garden which is a masterpiece in its own. He moved to Giverny in 1883 where he turned to his garden and surrounding landscapes for inspiration. His garden is still maintained and you can see the colorful and diverse plants and flowers that seem to have been plucked from one of his canvases. His famous water lilies dance on the pond of his water garden, while the weeping willows seem to scrape the surface of the water. The Japanese Bridge (yes, the one from the painting) stands proud in all its glory, as visitors gaze at it so endearingly and snap their cameras uncontrollably. Also in Giverny is the American Musuem of Art which pays tribute to American impressionist artists who came to Normandy to follow in the footsteps of French Impressionists.

The facade of the cathedral in Rouen, France.
The facade of the cathedral in Rouen, France.

Other impressionist paintings can be seen in museums scattered throughout the region. The Fine Arts Museum in Rouen houses a large collection of paintings and sculptures from the 16th through the 20th century. Works from Monet, Sisley and Pissaro can be found here. In Le Havre, the André Malraux Musuem, which overlooks the sea in an incredible building has a fabulous collection of impressionist works. Discovering or reassuring an appreciation for Impressionism is a simple task in Normandy. You can picture the brush strokes of different blues as you look at the coast. You can picture setting up an easel along the green fields spotted with trees. You picture yourself painting a person who is unaware you are watching them. You can picture it all. And you ask yourself…does life imitate art or does art imitate life?

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