Inspired by the unique light, the beauty and the mystery of Normandy, the Impressionist painters chose to set up their easels along the Channel coast and the banks of the Seine, in Rouen's Old Town and Monet's private gardens in Giverny.
Today, you can walk in their footsteps, admiring the same timeless landscapes as well as many original works. Find your own inspiration in the verdant landscapes, charming sleepy villages, vibrant colours and ethereal light that captured the hearts of Claude Monet, Sisley, Turner and many others.
A charming fishing port with traditional Norman architecture, Honfleur looks much as it did when Monet was a frequent visitor. Honfleur-born Eugène Boudin was a strong influence on Claude Monet. Monet first met Boudin in Honfleur, and would subsequently drag the whole band of renegade artists - Courbet, Corot, Sisley, Pissarro and Renoir - to the Saint Simeon farm. From this promontory they endlessly painted the colors of the Seine bay and surrounding area, earning them the title of "Estuary Painters". Today, a number of these paintings are exhibited at the Eugène Boudin Museum.
Alabaster coast - Dieppe, Fécamp, Yport, Etretat
This coastline of chalk cliffs and green pastures stretches from Le Havre eastward along the coast to Fécamp. Special mention goes to Etretat and its stunning cliff formations, including the famous chalk needle. Monet interpreted many of the scenes along this coast, leaving us a canvas trail to follow, as did painters such as Boudin, Pissaro, Sickert, Morisot and Noel.
The Impressionists, attracted by the unique, ever-changing light play in the estuary, attempted to capture its colours on canvas. A chic 19th century seaside resort for Parisians, the town was also the summer home of Monet who frequently stayed, and worked, at his aunt's house in Sainte-Adresse. Today, the Malraux Museum boasts a collection of Impressionist works rivalling Rouen's Fine Arts Museum. These include paintings by Boudin, Courbet, Corot, Sisley, Pissarro, Renoir, as well as some Post-Impressionist collections.
Côte fleurie - Deauville, Trouville, Cabourg, Houlgate
The coast between Trouville and Cabourg is a succession of 19th century seaside resorts popularised by the bourgeois trend for sea bathing. Scenes from the trendy seaside resorts of Deauville and Trouville were painted by a number of Impressionists, including the Plage à Trouville by Eugène Boudin (1893). Deauville's sandy beach dotted with brightly coloured beach umbrellas, its white-washed bath houses and traditional boardwalk confer a timeless feel to this familiar scene. Monet also painted the famous seaside resort of Cabourg and its "Grand Hotel", reflecting the varying moods of the sea and sky.
As the little Vernon-Gasny train chugged across the tranquil Norman countryside, a French artist and his partner Alice noticed a delightful town from their spot at the window. Charmed by the sight, the man later brought Alice and their children here to live. The artist was of course none other than Claude Monet and the town was that of Giverny. This quaint artists' retreat on the Seine became Monet's home in 1883 and by 1887, the spot had transformed into something of an artists' colony. Giverny's reputation as a haven of creativity was soon secured. Monet's famous water-lilies, painted in the garden he lovingly created at his Giverny home, have long been synonymous with the Impressionist movement. No art-lover's trip to Normandy would be complete without a visit to the Fondation Monet's home and gardens. Opened in May 2009, Giverny now also boasts the new Musée des Impressionnismes entirely dedicated to the Impressionist movement.
Artists flocked to the city, fascinated by the new industrial sites, the area's natural beauty and the plethora of unspoiled architectural gems. The Notre Dame Cathedral had its moment of glory when Monet consecrated some thirty canvases to its façade, painted at various times of day to capture the changes in luminosity, one of his best-loved series. Standing beside the Seine you can see the Saint Sever district on the left bank, once the heart of Rouen's docklands immortalized by Camille Pissarro in 1896. Both Monet and Pissarro succumbed to the charms of the half-timbered houses and narrow streets of this medieval city. Works are exhibited in the Rouen Fine Arts Museum.
All over Normandy, birthplace of Impressionism, preparations for the third Festival Normandie Impressionniste with portraits as its central theme, are under way.
The festival brings to the fore an eclectic programme across the Arts (exhibitions, concerts, films, modern art, literature, picnics like Manet's Luncheon on the Grass and traditional "guinguettes"...).