The cobblestone streets of Northern France are abuzz, as the first-ever Impressionist Festival kicks into high gear. Slated from June to September, the Normandy region of France will celebrate one of the most relevant artistic movements in art history by offering a variety of cultural programs, exhibitions, and activities.
The Impressionist Festival was initiated under Laurent Fabius, President of the Roen, Elbeuf, Austreberthe Community (CRE), along with the regional governments of Upper and Lower Normandy, the counties of Seine-Maritime and Eure, as well as the cities of Rouen and Caen. With support from the community, local businesses, urban centers, and prominent cultural personalities, the unprecedented, multidisciplinary festival is poised to become one of the largest landmark events in recent French history.
After a recent trip to France, JustLuxe has the insider scoop for those fortunate art aficionados who are planning on attending the festival. As you know, the festival takes place throughout Northern France, and where better to start than by visiting Giverny, more commonly referred to as the estate and gardens of Claude Monet.
If traveling from Paris (or anywhere in France for that matter), the best way to get to the Normandy region is by train. We found that Rail Europe provides a quick and hassle free means of travel, offering a comfortable first-class cabin for those who wish to ride in style. For just $335, you can purchase a First Class France Rail Pass, which provides four days of unlimited travel, valid for one month. Not only are the high-speed trains (Train à Grand Vitesse) both luxurious and convenient, they also offer unsurpassed views of the pristine French landscape. After approximately an hour of yellow and green panoramas flashing through the windows, our train arrived in Vernon, an enchanting town steeped in history, located just 30 minutes from Giverny.
As you approach Giverny, you will most likely find yourself overcome with a sense of surrealism, yet this particular estate is all about one thing: Impressionism. It was here where Claude Monet went about his daily life, raised his eight children, and drew inspiration in the surrounding beauty of his expansive gardens. From the borderline obsessive Japanese prints that blanket the walls, to a kitchen that would make Alice and Wonderland proud, each room inside the estate has been carefully restored by the Foundation Claude Monet Giverny.
While the interior of the pink rural farmhouse is unarguably impressive, the real beauty lays just outside. Spanning two and a half acres, the Jardins de Claude Monet is a welcoming respite, splashed with vibrantly hued flowers and sweet lingering aromas. One doesn’t need to be an art aficionado to recognize the familiar specks of color and gleaming flecks of light— but for those who know Monet well — this is truly a profound experience. Cascading perennials, lush greenery, and of course, delicate water lilies scattered gracefully in the water garden, are among the highlights of this well-preserved sanctuary.
In celebration of the upcoming festival, the Musée des Impressionist de Giverny is showcasing Impressionism on the Seine: from Renoir and Monet to Matisse, an exhibition, which brings together approximately 50 paintings from both public and private collections, each which was painted along the banks of the Seine River. The collection is designed to retrace the history of Impressionism and post-Impressionism, from Eugène Boudin to Henri Matisse.
After perusing the gardens and masterpieces by Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, and Sisley, we set out to follow the Route of the Impressionists in Rouen, a charming town situated between Paris and the Normandy coast. Once described by Pissarro as being just “as beautiful as Venice,” Rouen is best known for having drawn the likes of landscape painters, serving as an instrumental landmark during the time of the Impressionists.
The Route of the Impressionists runs along the Seine Valley La Bouille, Sahurs et Bonsecours and highlights 22 key locations where such famous artists had once set up their easel and captured the landscape that lay ahead. The six tourist routes are scattered throughout Dieppe, Etretat, Le Havre, La Bouille, Rouen, and Giverny, and are marked with reading panels that describe which Impressionist painting was created at the site, and by whom.
After literally standing in the footsteps of some of the most influential artists of all time, we headed back to the city, checked into the medieval Hotel Bourgtheroulde, passed the burning grounds of Joan of Arc, and made our way to the Musée des Beaux Arts. With 100 masterpieces devoted to the city “of a thousand steeples,” the Musée des Beaux Arts boasts the finest Impressionist collection in France, outside of Paris. In celebration of the festival, the museum presents: A City for Impressionism: Monet, Pissarro, and Gauguin in Rouen.
While Impressionist paintings hang on the white walls inside, the real spectacle occurred just outside its doors. On June 5, 1,250 participants clutched a recreated piece of Monet’s La Cathédrale de Rouen, effet de soleil, fin de journée, and as they extended their arms towards the sky, the puzzle came into focus and was projected for all to see, covering a surface area of 600 square meters.
There is no denying that the much-anticipated Impressionist Festival has swept the streets of Upper and Lower Normandy. From museum exhibitions and carefully mapped routes along the Seine, to exclusive pre-fix “Impressionist menus” at local restaurants, the Impressionist Festival is one cultural event that is not to be missed.
By Christina Stewart
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Full disclosure: Christina Stewart was a guest of ATOUT France and Rail Europe while on assignment for JustLuxe, but all views expressed are entirely her own.