The boat­ing party

A river cruise into the fa­mous land­scapes of the French Im­pres­sion­ists

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Afloat - SU­SAN KUROSAWA

IT was a paint­ing that started it all. A print of Renoir’s Lun­cheon of the Boat­ing Party (1881) was tacked on a wall dur­ing my high-school art lec­tures and I found the scene mes­meris­ing — straw hats and sin­glets, gob­lets of red wine, hazy heat and, just vis­i­ble in the back­ground, un­ruly reeds, a sail­boat, the hint of a river.

Later, study­ing the Im­pres­sion­ists at univer­sity, I dis­cov­ered the set­ting was the bal­cony at Mai­son Four­naise, a haven for row­ers on Ile de Cha­tou on the right bank of the Seine. My elec­tive art his­tory stud­ies soon re­volved en­tirely around the Im­pres­sion­ists, in­clud­ing Renoir’s Boat­ing on the Seine se­ries and all the works of Berthe Morisot, the sub­ject of my the­sis.

I re­mem­ber stick­ing my own clumsy copy of her Sum­mer’s Day (1879) on the cover of my work­book in a lame at­tempt to im­press the lec­turer. In it ( the orig­i­nal), two women sit in a rowboat on the lake of the Bois de Boulogne. The sky is scrib­bled with white and the light rip­ples and dances on the wa­ter like a kind of fairy­land. I would dream of be­ing there, too, fan­cy­ing some­one look­ing rather like (the then glo­ri­ously hand­some) Alain Delon would ar­rive to row me to heaven.

Now I have died and gone to heaven — or to Paris, at least. I am at Musee Mar­mot­tan in a 19th-cen­tury for­mer hunt­ing lodge be­tween Jardin du Ranelagh and the Bois de Boulogne, where there are rooms full of Morisot can­vases. I am a year late for her spe­cial re­strospec­tive, which fea­tured Sum­mer’s Day, on loan from the Na­tional Gallery in Lon­don, but Au bord du Lac is here and many oth­ers I know and love.

I am with a small tour group and this evening we will leave Paris on the cruiser Avalon Cre­ativ­ity for a week to sail past (and at some stages into) the land­scapes and vil­lages painted by Morisot and her peers on an Im­pres­sion­ist- themed cruise. I

Clock­wise from main: the port of Hon­fleur; Avalon Cre­ativ­ity, out­side and within; L’Orangerie in Paris; the route taken dur­ing the cruise; the vil­lage of Les An­dely am about to die and go to Nor­mandy.

This is my sec­ond river cruise in Europe and un­like many itin­er­ar­ies it is a cir­cuit, in this case from Con­flans Sainte-Honorine in the Ile-de-France area of Paris’s north­west sub­urbs (im­prob­a­bly, it seems, we can see the Eif­fel Tower from the stern); the seven-night itin­er­ary takes a com­ple­ment of 140 pas­sen­gers and moves at a smooth and leisurely clip, with overnight moor­ings.

From the first morn­ing, it feels like be­ing im­mersed in a gallery of Im­pres­sion­ist can­vases. My notes: ‘‘It is 6.15am and we are sail­ing through woolly mist along the Seine to­wards Ver­non, from where we will take a bus to Giverny to see Monet’s waterlilies and that fa­bled Ja­panese bridge . . .

‘‘Lean­ing out my cabin’s floor-to­ceil­ing slid­ing win­dow, I can just make out the fine trac­ery of weep­ing wil­lows, the sen­try shapes of poplars, the sug­ges­tion of pitch-roofed farm­houses, all emerg­ing from the same pale and aque­ous light of Claude Monet’s Sun­rise on the es­tu­ary at Le Havre.

‘ ‘ There are manor houses with gar­dens that sweep to the river. Ev­ery­thing’s mys­te­ri­ously shad­owed but the sky is light­en­ing now, de­fined forms emerg­ing as if from a de­vel­op­ing photo. There’s the ur­gent quack­ing of ducks, a man cy­cles along a river­side track, a baguette in his bike’s bas­ket; he waves it at me like a ba­ton just as the sun strikes. Won­der­ful, com­i­cal, I am laugh­ing.’’

And so with guide Stephanie we see Giverny and the pink-and-green house where Monet lived and worked for 43 years and painted his cher­ished waterlilies in all sea­sons and per­mu­ta­tions of light. The day is bright and shiny and we stroll un­der a high Wedg­wood-blue sky with bun­dled clouds that could have been daubed that morn­ing by Al­fred Sis­ley.

Day 3 and the city of Rouen beck­ons on a walk­ing tour es­corted by Elodie past half-tim­bered houses and along cob­bled lanes through the me­dieval quar­ter; the tally of clas­si­fied build­ings is a head-spin­ning 800. We learn of the city’s con­nec­tions to Joan of Arc and to Gus­tave Flaubert (and where bet­ter to buy a copy of Madame Bo­vary) and, of course, to Monet, who in 1892 and 93 painted a se­ries of more than 30 im­ages of the western fa­cade of its gothic Cathe­dral of our Lady of Rouen.

That af­ter­noon it’s off with guide Ce­line by bus to Hon­fleur and the seag­ulls and the sea­side — this is where in 1864 Monet worked on streetscapes of Rue sun­ligh cap­tur Camill Sis­ley h sparklin

We with w Courb hol­i­day we devo and vio lampsh Bro­can home f looks

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