The towns that inspired the Impressionists

A major pictorial trend that emerged in the late nineteenth century, Impressionism represents one of painting’s richest periods! Distinguished by a profound change in style, the Impressionist movement produced some extraordinary painters (Monet, Manet, Sisley, Gauguin, Cézanne, Bazille, Renoir...) and stirred a love of painting in the heart of generations and generations of enthusiasts!

For many Impressionist painters, France was a tender muse inspiring masterpieces that many of you can probably picture in your head: you will certainly know Manet’s The Luncheon on the Grass or Cézanne’s The Card Players! From Paris to Aix-en-Provence, let’s take a voyage of discovery to some of the French towns that inspired these painters from another time, whose names and works fascinate us more than ever today!

Authentic Le Havre

Few people realise that the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Le Havre is in fact the cradle of Impressionism. It was in this Normandy town that Monet applied the first brushstrokes to his “Impression, Sunrise”, the painting that gave the movement its name. A superb museum and a walking trail in the footsteps of the greatest painters now reflect this richly colourful and exciting heritage.

You can walk to the spots that inspired these Impressionist paintings, from the jetties of the port to Quai Notre-Dame, from the beach to the soft light of Sainte-Adresse. And to really bring this creative period back to life, visit the Musée Malraux and see its rich collection of Impressionist paintings: it has the second biggest collection in France after the Musée d’Orsay !

Office de tourisme du Havre
186 Bd Clémenceau
76600 Le Havre
Tel.: 33 (0)2 32 74 04 04

Beautiful Rouen

For the painter Claude Monet, a forerunner of the Impressionist movement, Rouen was a great source of inspiration. In a remarkable series of 18 paintings, Monet depicted the cathedral of this Normandy city in different lights (at dawn, at dusk, in the evening, in full sun...). The result is magnificent: in colours shifting from shades of blue to orange, sometimes verging on grey, Monet offers us a fascinating series of views of Rouen cathedral. As with his series of paintings of waterlilies, these moving and captivating paintings are a testament to the artist’s pictorial genius! And in summer, the city offers you an opportunity to see these famous paintings again, life size.

From June to September a light show is projected onto the cathedral façade, free of charge: here you can watch Monet’s paintings come to life before your very eyes! Young and old will be filled with wonder at the magic of this magnificent spectacle! And before leaving beautiful Rouen, don’t forget that the city’s excellent fine arts museum with its major Impressionist collection is open all year round.

Office de tourisme de Rouen
25 Place de la Cathédrale
76000 Rouen
Tel.: 33 (0) 2 32 08 32 40## Unique Paris

What a romantic city Paris is! A source of wonder, escape and exhilaration, Paris, the city of light, possesses an unrivalled cultural and artistic heritage! Many of the Impressionists drew the essence of their art from this city and a great many masterpieces were produced here, of Notre-Dame de Paris (Notre-Dame from the Quai de la Tournelle, Jongkind), the picturesque streets of the old city (Paris Street, Rainy Day, Caillebotte), station platforms (Saint-Lazare Station, Monet), the area around the Louvre (Quai du Louvre, Paris, Monet), the Trocadero (View of Paris from the Trocadero, Morisot), the Saint-Martin canal (Canal Saint-Martin, Sisley) or the lively dancing at the guinguettes on a Sunday (Ball at the Moulin de la Galette, Renoir).

With the magic of their brushes, the Impressionists created a timeless living portrait of Paris! Emotion is always present in each of their paintings and we are led into a gentle reminiscence of Paris as it once was. If you have a yen to discover these great Impressionist painters, the Musée d’Orsay is absolutely the place to go! But remember that there’s no need to queue if you want to visit Paris’ many museums. The Paris Museum Pass is the perfect queue-jumping solution: armed with this you have free admission to over 60 Parisian monuments as many times as you like! Get yours at the Paris tourist office!

Office du tourisme et des Congrès de Paris
25 rue des Pyramides
75001 Paris
Tel : 0 892 68 3000 (0.34 €/min)

Southern Aix-en-Provence

The most famous son of Aix-en-Provence is an Impressionist painter! This is Paul Cézanne, whose fame spread well beyond the borders of France a long time ago. Throughout his life, Cézanne was never able to do without the people, smells and colours of his region for long! When there, he devoted himself entirely to his art.

Walking around the town, a route indicated by copper studs will guide you to Cézanne’s favourite spots. Around and about the city, you can immerse yourself in Cézanne’s paintings on 5 waymarked routes: the farm at Jas de Bouffan, the banks of the Arc, the studio at Les Lauves (where every summer the “Nuits des toiles” [Night Visions] delight the crowds with projections of Cézanne’s paintings onto the studio façades), the Chemin de la Marguerite, the Bibémus quarries, Trois-Sautets bridge and, last but not least, the famous Mont Sainte Victoire, the landscape most painted by Cézanne… You can book all these guided tours online, on the Aix tourist office website. Then let your emotions carry you away and experience the sensations of a painter of genius who took the Provençal colours of his native soil to extraordinary heights!

Office municipal de tourisme
2 Place du Général de Gaulle
13100 Aix-en-Provence
Tel. 33 (0)4 42 16 11 61

Further reading

  • Guide du Paris impressionniste
    • Editions Parigramme
  • Aix-en-Provence: le Pays de Cézanne
    • Editions Equinoxe
  • Monet, Lumières sur la cathédrale de Rouen
    • Editions Magellan et Com