In­side the homes of Europe’s top artists

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - REAL ESTATE -

As a trav­eler, I find my­self vis­it­ing the homes of lots of dead peo­ple. Some are over the top (Louis XIV’s Ver­sailles near Paris); some are haunt­ing (Anne Frank’s house in Am­s­ter­dam); oth­ers in­spire you to write a poem (Wil­liam Wordsworth’s Dove Cot­tage in Eng­land’s Lake District).

Many of my fa­vorites are the home stu­dios of artists — painters, sculp­tors, com­posers. There’s some­thing about these spe­cial places that con­jures the strange magic of creative work. Luck­ily for trav­el­ers, many have be­come mu­se­ums that wel­come vis­i­tors.

Per­haps the high­est­pro­file of Europe’s home stu­dios is Claude Monet’s. The spir­i­tual father of im­pres­sion­ism, Monet spent 40 years cul­ti­vat­ing his gar­den and his art at Giverny, 50 miles north­west of Paris.

Monet’s ac­tual sky­lighted stu­dio is now a gift shop, but the artist’s real workspace was his 5-acre gar­den. A mas­ter of color, Monet treated his gar­den like a can­vas, choos­ing and plant­ing his pe­onies, irises and laven­der bushes for max­i­mum ef­fect. In turn, the flower beds in­spired some of his most iconic art­works. He of­ten painted “en plein air” — out­side — some­times on a foot­bridge that over­looked a Ja­panese-style pond choked with his pre­cious wa­ter lilies. Strolling the path­ways here is like wit­ness­ing an im­pres­sion­ist paint­ing come to life.

The con­cept of the artist’s stu­dio got its start in the Re­nais­sance, when es­tab­lished mas­ters main­tained art work­shops and taught ap­pren­tices. When Florence’s city fa­thers started build­ing a new cathe­dral in 1296, they founded the Opera del Duomo, or Cathe­dral Work­shop, where the sculp­tures for the church and its bell tower were crafted (“opera” is the Ital­ian word for “work”).

Re­nais­sance greats, such as Brunelleschi (who de­signed the cathe­dral’s dome) and the sculp­tor Donatello, put in time there. Re­mark­ably, the “opera” con­tin­ues to­day within steps of the land­mark cathe­dral, on the ap­pro­pri­ately named Via dello Stu­dio. Through the open door­way, you’ll see to­day’s mas­ters sculpt­ing re­place­ment stat­ues and restor­ing old ones to keep the cathe­dral’s art in good re­pair.

Over time, the typ­i­cal stu­dio be­came less a com­mu­nal work­shop and more a place of solo in­dus­try and re­flec­tion. Nor­way’s great­est com­poser, Ed­vard Grieg, main­tained just such a clas­sic artist’s re­treat. He spent his last 22 sum­mers, un­til 1907, at the Vic­to­ri­anstyle home he called Trold­hau­gen, just out­side Ber­gen. Quiet, lush and se­cluded, the dreamy set­ting was ideal for soak­ing up in­spi­ra­tional fjord beauty.

But the house was of­ten burst­ing with fam­ily and friends. To coun­ter­act the con­stant hub­bub, Grieg built a sim­ple, one-room stu­dio at the wa­ter’s edge, and ev­ery day he would lock him­self in­side to be sure he’d get some­thing done. The cabin had ev­ery­thing he needed, and no more: an up­right pi­ano, a desk over­look­ing the wa­ter and a couch for naps. Gaz­ing at his rus­tic desk, his lit­tle pi­ano and the dra­matic fjord scenery out the win­dow, you can un­der­stand how Grieg’s mu­sic so pow­er­fully evokes the nat­u­ral won­der of Nor­way.

Artists as long ago as Rem­brandt fig­ured out that the stu­dio could dou­ble as a sales room. When his ca­reer took off in Golden Age Am­s­ter­dam, the great Dutch painter moved to an ex­pen­sive home with a well-lighted stu­dio. He would paint his fa­mous “Night Watch” here, among many other mas­ter­pieces.

The artist lined the walls floor to ceil­ing with his paint­ings, and then in­vited po­ten­tial pa­trons in to browse. Open­ing up the stu­dio turned out to be good for busi­ness, so much so that Rem­brandt also had a small of­fice to keep up with his pa­per­work. (He wasn’t ter­ri­bly good at it, and even­tu­ally went bank­rupt.)

Per­haps the most orig­i­nal home stu­dio I’ve toured is Sal­vador Dali’s place near Cadaques, Spain. As a kid, Dali spent sum­mers in this sleepy port, and the ec­cen­tric artist came back years later with his wife, Gala. To­gether, they built a labyrinthine com­pound that climbs up a hill over­look­ing the Mediter­ranean.

Like Dali’s art, his home is off­beat, provoca­tive and fun. The ec­cen­tric am­bi­ence, in­side and out, was per­fect for a sur­re­al­ist hang­ing out with his creative play­mate and muse. This place, and his part­ner­ship with Gala, be­came so im­por­tant to Dali that when she died in 1982, he moved away and never re­turned (he died in 1989).

But ev­ery­thing has been kept more or less as Dali left it, from play­fully stuffed an­i­mals and mus­ta­chioed paint­ings to the cou­ple’s phal­lic-shaped swim­ming pool, the scene of or­gias­tic par­ties. In his stu­dio, with its big win­dows drink­ing in light from the sea and sky, he painted for eight hours a day (he had clev­erly in­no­vated an easel that could be raised and low­ered so he could stay seated while paint­ing). Dali lived large, but he worked hard too.

Whether you’re in­dulging in a fan­tasy in Dali-land or float­ing serenely above Monet’s wa­ter lilies, a trip to an artist’s home stu­dio can be a mem­o­rable high­light of any trip to Europe.

RICK STEVES/RICK STEVES’ EUROPE

Com­poser Ed­vard Grieg re­treated daily to this pic­ture-per­fect one-room stu­dio on a Nor­we­gian fjord.

GENE OPENSHAW/RICK STEVES’ EUROPE

The Opera del Duomo work­shop-stu­dio in Florence, Italy, has been op­er­at­ing since the late 13th cen­tury.

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