Nor­mandy

World Travel Magazine - - Contents - BY GOR­DON LETH­BRIDGE

It was the sim­ple ad­vent of the rail­ways from Paris to the coast that lead Monet, De­gas, Renoir and Boudin to Nor­mandy and cap­ture the dance of light on can­vas.

I have of­ten driven through Nor­mandy

and ad­mired the land­scape and ru­ral ar­chi­tec­ture and promised my­self I would ex­plore the re­gion in more depth. Af­ter vis­it­ing a flower show where the Nor­mandy Tourist Board were spon­sor­ing a gar­den cel­e­brat­ing Impressionism in Nor­mandy, it was about time for a visit to see what at­tracted the Im­pres­sion­ists to Nor­mandy.

Impressionism was less about de­tail and re­al­ism in paint­ings and more about an ac­cu­rate de­pic­tion of light and its chang­ing qual­i­ties. This was best done out­doors where they could cap­ture the tran­sient effects of light on a sub­ject and were among the first group of artists who took paint­ing out­side en plein air. The ad­vent of the rail­ways along the Seine Val­ley from Paris to the coast con­trib­uted to Nor­mandy be­came the Cra­dle of Impressionism.

JARDIN CLAUDE MONET, GIVERNY

Both my wife and I en­joy vis­it­ing gar­dens so Claude Monet’s gar­den at Giverny was an ob­vi­ous choice to visit. Monet once said that his great­est cre­ation was not any of his paint­ings but his gar­den­ing, on en­ter­ing the gar­den, we could see why. We were met with an ex­plo­sion of colour in a de­sign rem­i­nis­cent of his paint­ings.

Such beau­ti­ful use of colour with bold spring flow­ers un­der­planted with com­pli­men­tary colours de­signed by an artist with an eye for colour and light.

Leav­ing the vi­brancy of the gar­den beds be­hind we made our way to the water lily ponds. Al­most im­me­di­ately we had a feel­ing of deja vu; it was like walk­ing into a paint­ing. The water lilies se­ries are per­haps the best known of Monet’s paint­ings. To­day the wil­lows, Ja­panese bridges and of course the water lilies are as fa­mil­iar as in his paint­ings.

THE CITY OF ROUEN

Rouen is a pretty city with streets half-tim­bered houses and a mag­nif­i­cent cathe­dral. The day I was there it was rainy, over­cast and grey; not the best day for sight­see­ing. How­ever such in­clement con­di­tions, I dis­cov­ered af­ter vis­it­ing the Musée des Beaux Arts’ small col­lec­tion of Im­pres­sion­ist paint­ings, did not de­ter the artists. Claude Monet painted the façade of the im­pres­sive Cathe­dral al­most 30 times in dif­fer­ent light, sea­sonal and me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal con­di­tions to il­lus­trate the in­ter­play of light and shadow on the in­tri­cate carv­ings.

In the driz­zling rain, I strolled down one of the streets to Le Gros Hor­loge, or Great Clock; I had seen a paint­ing by Leon Le­maître de­pict­ing the clock and its arch­way in equally as in­clement weather. I wanted to see it as he had seen it. It did not mat­ter that the sun had not shone; I had seen Rouen as the Im­pres­sion­ists had seen it.

“THE RICH­NESS I ACHIEVE COMES FROM NA­TURE.THE SOURCE OF MY IN­SPI­RA­TION.” - OS­CAR-CLAUDE MONET

THE RIVER SEINE

The River Seine me­an­ders through Nor­mandy, and it was great to be able to wan­der along its banks, pic­nic be­side the water or ex­plore the wood slopes of the val­ley. The Im­pres­sion­ist artists were keen on paint­ing au pleine air rather than in the stu­dio. The Val­ley of the Seine of­fers fan­tas­tic light, great land­scapes and other sub­jects for paint­ing. I spent a cou­ple of days ex­plor­ing the wooded val­leys and marsh­lands of the Boucles de Seine Re­gional Park where the Im­pres­sion­ists such as Al­fred Sis­ley used to paint.

HON­FLEUR

The mo­ment I saw the Vieux Bassin in Hon­fleur, I knew Hon­fleur to be among the pret­ti­est lit­tle har­bours in France. Colour­ful old houses line Quai Sainte Cather­ine’s with their reflections in the water of the har­bour. I ex­per­i­mented with my own Im­pres­sion­is­tic images by pho­tograph­ing these reflections in the water and spent time pho­tograph­ing the sub­jects the Im­pres­sion­ists painted.

The port town is the birth­place of Eugène Boudin who ad­vised the young Monet to paint “the sea and sky” and has a mu­seum ded­i­cated to his work. Monet ob­vi­ously took this ad­vice to heart as many of his cre­ations fea­ture ei­ther or both.

LE HAVRE

Claude Monet grew up in Le Havre across the es­tu­ary from Hon­fleur. It was not a place I had on my bucket list for France, but I dis­cov­ered it was where Claude Monet painted the port scene Im­pres­sion, Soleil Le­vant (Im­pres­sion, Sun­rise). It was this paint­ing that gave the Im­pres­sion­ist move­ment its name. It is also home to the Musée Mal­raux (Muma), one of the most im­por­tant Im­pres­sion­ist art col­lec­tions out­side Paris with works by Monet, De­gas, Renoir, Sis­ley, Pis­sarro, Manet and Boudin.

ÉTRETAT

Hav­ing seen sev­eral paint­ings of the Falaises d’étretat I wanted to see them in real life. I was not dis­ap­pointed; they are stun­ning. The cliffs of Étretat are what give the Cȏte d’alâtre or Al­abaster Coast its name. They were a mag­net for the Im­pres­sion­ist artists who would set up their easels on the seafront or on the cliff tops. I fol­lowed in their foot­steps armed, not with paint­brushes and easel but my cam­era and tri­pod. In­for­ma­tion boards now show the view­points from which dif­fer­ent artists painted their most Iconic pic­tures of Étretat.

“From Giverny to Le Havre Nor­mandy can be truly re­ferred to as the cra­dle of Impressionism.”

“IT DID NOT MAT­TER THAT THE SUN HAD NOT SHONE; I HAD SEEN ROUEN AS THE IM­PRES­SION­ISTS HAD SEEN IT.”

From top, Monet’s Gar­den as he de­signed it; Gros Hor­loge, Rouen; Ja­panese bridge at the water lilies pond in Monet’s Gar­den Op­po­site, from top,ja­panese bridge and wil­lows which fea­tured in many of Monet’s paint­ings; Vieux Bassin, Hon­fleur Pre­vi­ous Pages from left, The cliffs at Etre­tat; Water lilies in Monet’s Gar­den

From the top, Al­abaster Coast; the re­flec­tion of the har­bour-side houses at Hon­fleur; Dieppe in light con­di­tions the Im­pres­sion­ists would try to por­tray in their work Op­po­site, The Seine Val­ley pro­vided a wealth of pas­toral scenes in ever chang­ing light

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