Normandy – Birthplace of Impressionism
Normandy was a popular place for creatives in the 19th century. Just a short hop away from chaotic Paris along the new train line, the region offered a respite from the big city, and artists in particular found Normandy to be a great source of inspiration.
The beauty of the coast, the charming old towns, and the quality of the light influenced many painters at this time – so much so that a new art movement was born: Impressionism.
Before my trip to Normandy I must admit, I had just a general knowledge of Impressionism - I could have guessed a few names or perhaps the technique of painting, but I was by no means an expert. Travelling through this beautiful region, you see time and again the landscape depicted in so many famous works of art and I found myself fascinated by the subject.
As Claude Monet was one of the leading pioneers of the movement, visitors who want to discover more about Impressionism in Normandy should start at the artist’s house and garden in Giverny (also known as the Fondation Claude Monet). On the banks of the Seine River, this idyllic spot was where Monet lived between 1883 and 1926 and was the subject of his most famous series, The Waterlilies. The Fondation Claude Monet puts a heavy focus on preserving the house and gardens just as they were during Monet’s time. Open from spring until autumn when the flowers are in bloom, you can easily see why this garden was close to Monet's heart.
Giverny’s Musée des Impressionnismes is just a stone’s throw away from the Fondation Claude Monet, and from March 27 - July 19, 2015 it will host an exhibition featuring the works spanning the career of Edgar Degas. This painter was not often considered among the most famous Impressionist painters as his style differs greatly in terms of subject and technique, but Degas was nevertheless an avant-garde artist of the time.
The port city of Le Havre is often referred to as the birthplace of Impressionism, as it was here that Monet produced his Impression, Sunrise painting, which the movement was named after. Le Havre’s MuMa (Museum of Modern Art André Malraux) hosts France’s second largest collection of Impressionist paintings, a must-visit for the wide variety of works from painters such as Boudin, Monet, Sisley, Pissarro, Renoir, Matisse and more.
Those who want to try their hand at painting like the Impressionist artists can learn some techniques in medieval Rouen, a city frequented by the Impressionist painters who were drawn to the beautiful architecture here. Two-hour workshops are held in the very same room that Monet used for a series of paintings where he painted Rouen’s Cathedral some thirty times. Classes cost €28 and are run all-year-round – reservations can be made through the Rouen Tourist Office.
Impressionist art today is famous across the globe and Normandy continues to celebrate the movement in new and exciting ways. Recently announced is the return of the Normandy Impressionist Festival that will run
from April 16 - September 26, 2016. First held in 2010, it promises to be bigger and better than ever, with not only a range of Impressionist paintings all over Normandy – the focus of which will be Impressionist portraits – but also other forms of art influenced by the movement, including music, dance, and theatre. For all art lovers, this event is not to be missed.
That said, it’s always a great time to visit Normandy to discover impressionism – I’ll be heading back as soon as I can.