A brush with the masters

Julie HatÞeld puts paint to can­vas on an art cruise along the Seine.

Cruise Passenger - - CONTENTS -

It sounds like an art critic’s ver­sion of hell. Forty peo­ple be­hind their easels on board a cruise ship, de­ter­mined to cre­ate their own mas­ter­pieces. AmaWa­ter­ways – which part­ners APT here in Aus­tralia – had promised pas­sen­gers three two-hour paint­ing ses­sions – and the chance to cre­ate three pieces of “art”.

Of the 80 pas­sen­gers from Aus­tralia, Canada, Ire­land, the Nether­lands, the United King­dom and the United States who had booked the Art Il­lu­mi­na­tion Cruise along the Seine River, go­ing from Paris deep into Nor­mandy and re­turn­ing in seven day, 40 of us had signed on to brush up on the old masters. The ma­jor­ity had never held a brush or put paint to pa­per be­fore.

El­iz­a­beth Gre­bler, holder of an art de­gree from Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity, had been hired to guide us. And, of course, this lovely stretch of the Seine would pro­vide the in­spi­ra­tion.

As we boarded AmaLe­gro, we no­ticed the art

on the walls com­prised prints of fa­mous French Im­pres­sion­ists. No pres­sure!

We learned that one of Gre­bler’s du­ties as art teacher was to en­cour­age peo­ple who had been told at school that they had no tal­ent, and to per­suade them to just pick up a brush and paint.

On our sec­ond day, we were taken on an ex­cur­sion to the glo­ri­ous home and Giverny gar­dens of Claude Monet – a founder of the French Im­pres­sion­ist move­ment and its most pro­liÞc prac­ti­tioner. He loved land­scapes. And he painted the Wa­ter Lilies se­ries – some 250 oils of his ßower gar­den.

So with fresh vi­sions of snap­drag­ons, hol­ly­hocks and, of course, wa­ter lilies in our heads, we headed into the din­ing room af­ter break­fast where 40 easels had been set up – each with a set of paints and an apron.

Stand­ing in front of us, Gre­bler be­gan paint­ing her ver­sion of the wa­ter lilies, one colour at a time. She showed us how to mix shades and en­cour­aged us to put any­thing down that we wished. Th­ese were, af­ter all, go­ing to be our per­sonal pieces of art to keep as me­men­tos of a de­light­ful week cruis­ing the Seine.

We had read that Monet said: “I may be a painter, but itÕs thanks to ßow­ersÓ. So we took the plunge with our paint for the very Þrst time in our lives Ð thank­ing the ßow­ers as we went.

As we worked, Gre­bler came around with en­cour­ag­ing re­marks for ev­ery­one. Each of the 40 paint­ings was slightly dif­fer­ent but al­most all – ex­cept for the paint­ing by a den­tist from At­lanta – looked like MonetÕs fa­mous ßow­ers. Those of us who were vir­gin artists were sur­prised by how few pats of acrylic paint we were given. Where, for ex­am­ple, would we Þnd the green we needed for all the veg­e­ta­tion? Our teacher showed us how to mix our yel­low and blue pig­ments to make any shade of green we wanted.

We painted for two hours each day. And when we were rest­ing our newly ac­quired artis­tic tal­ents, we took ex­cur­sions.

Those who chose not to paint used some of the 20 bi­cy­cles that were stored on the top deck to tour the towns and vil­lages where we docked, or just stayed on board and en­joyed the hot tub and the Þt­ness and read­ing rooms.

We ÒartistsÓ vis­ited the for­tiÞed Mid­dle Ages town of Honßeur with its slate cov­ered half-tim­ber houses and a pic­turesque har­bour that Monet loved to paint. Which meant that our class the next day dealt with reßec­tions on wa­ter and sky, with Gre­bler telling us to Òbrush in your sky ÞrstÓ and Òre­mem­ber the light and colour of the mir­ror of the cloudsÓ. Put your houses in last, was her ad­vice.

We painted lit­tle sail­boats and mul­ti­col­ored cot­tages and wa­ter re­flec­tions with vary­ing de­grees of suc­cess.

Many of the pas­sen­gers vis­ited the beaches of Nor­mandy. Al­most all of us, when the boat tied up in the town of Rouen, spent the evening en­joy­ing the stun­ning light and sound show pre­sented on the front of the 12th to 16th-cen­tury Rouen Cathe­dral. Another church in Rouen, the city where the demise of Joan of Arc took place, is the gor­geously lacy Church of Saint-Ma­clou. With an ar­chi­tec­tural style called "Flam­boy­ant Gothic", the church re­sem­bles the win­ner of a se­ri­ous sand sculp­ture con­test.

To­ward the end of the trip, our ex­cur­sion to Chateau de Mal­mai­son, the lux­u­ri­ous es­tate of Napoleon and Josephine Bon­a­parte, which served as the seat of French gov­ern­ment from 1800 to 1802, had us study­ing the valu­able col­lec­tion of art with new, ap­pre­cia­tive eyes.

Our vi­sion of Paris as we had Þrst made our way along the river leav­ing the city was of a bril­liantly il­lu­mi­nated Eif­fel Tower, and that's what Gre­bler sug­gested we paint for our fi­nal work of art. She be­gan by show­ing us the per­spec­tive of the legs of the tower, us­ing black and white to put the vary­ing and iconic di­men­sions into the art.

As our week on AmaLe­gro went on, we had no­ticed that some of the Im­pres­sion­ist art along the hall­ways was dis­ap­pear­ing. In its place were the works of un­known artists.

Yes, our Þrst ex­hi­bi­tion.

Some­times, th­ese newly minted art works had a price next to them. One said "Euro 4". An hour later, another price had been scratched over the orig­i­nal, read­ing "Euro 1 Ð on sale!".

The fun­ni­est ex­change was the first day's paint­ing by the den­tist, who in­stead of wa­ter lilies had cho­sen to paint a vi­o­lent red-slashed pic­ture of dis­tress, which we silently named "Root Canal Gone Awry". No mat­ter, he said, he was happy paint­ing any­thing for the Þrst time. Even when the pic­ture he had put on the wall out­side his cabin was placed in the rub­bish bin a few hours later.

We loved the ex­pe­ri­ence of mak­ing our own Euro­pean art and cruis­ing aboard AmaLe­gro was a lovely ex­pe­ri­ence. The cab­ins were sur­pris­ingly roomy and com­fort­able, with tiny bal­conies, which al­lowed us to see the pa­rade of vil­lages as we passed.

Chefs Ge­orge Sakadanov and Nor­man Wolf pro­vided ex­quis­ite French-in­spired meals three times a day, along with el­e­gant tea times and cock­tail hours. It was not un­usual to find l'es­car­gots and frogs' legs in cream sauce at lunchtime, and we un­der­stood why AmaWa­ter­ways is the only river cruise com­pany in the world to be awarded mem­ber­ship in the "Royal Guild of Goose Roast­ers" Ð known more gen­er­ally as La Con­frerie de la Chaine des Ro­tis­seurs, the old­est gas­tro­nomic so­ci­ety on the planet.

– This cruise is now of­fered on AmaLyra, see Fact File.

Clock­wise from top left: art teacher El­iz­a­beth Gre­bler; Giverny gar­dens; AmaLe­gra

Clock­wise from top left: AmaLyra suite; on­board art class; AmaLe­gro re­cep­tion

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