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Following in the Footsteps of Monet and Van Gogh: A Journey Through France

As a music student, Visual Art was not a big part of my life as I was growing up. I didn't develop a true appreciation for it until I started travelling and visiting famous museums around the world. For a long time, I just didn't understand or appreciate the various styles and artistic movements. However, something changed. I became enamoured with the Impressionists, especially the works of Monet and Van Gogh. I grew to truly admire the dream-like atmosphere created by Monet and the emotional impact of Van Gogh. I decided to use my umpteenth trip to France, the birthplace of Impressionism, to learn even more. There is still a lot I need to see and learn but come meander with me as I discover the art and lives of Monet and Van Gogh as I meandered around France.

Paris

Monet and Van Gogh both lived in and spent significant time Paris during the late 1800s. During this period of time, Paris attracted artists from around the world and was considered to be the heart of modern art. Monet moved to Paris in the 1850s and lived in several different neighbourhoods. One of his favourite spots was the Parc Monceau, where he would often paint en plein air (outdoors). He was known to frequently visit the Musée du Louvre to study the works of both the old masters and the contemporary artists.

Vincent Van Gogh moved to Paris in 1886 to live with his art dealer brother, Theo -- who continued to support Van Gogh emotionally and financially for the rest of the artist's life. Vincent quickly became a part of the Parisian art scene and was influenced by the work of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. Van Gogh was known to be particularly fond of the Jardin des Tuileries, where he would often go to sketch and indulge in some people-watching.

Parisien cafés played a crucial role in the Impressionist movement. Artists, intellectuals, and writers would meet at the cafes to socialize, and debate ideas and current events. The cafés (and perhaps, the copious amount of absinthe that was consumed) led to lively discussions rejecting the rigid rules and traditions of the traditional art institutions. Creativity, freedom and exploration were highly valued and encouraged.

Still Life with Absinthe by Vincent Van Gogh, Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam

Not only were the cafés important social hubs, but they also provided the Impressionists with a rich source of subject matter for their paintings. The vibrant street life inside and pretty outdoor terraces and welcoming atmosphere inspired artists. The Impressionists worked to capture the emotions and sensations of the world surrounding them, and the cafes provided a great deal of inspiration.


The cafes of Paris became new galleries for those who were rejected by the traditional salons and galleries. Many Impressionist artists, including Claude Monet, exhibited their works in the cafes themselves, allowing their art to be seen by a much wider audience. These café exhibitions helped to establish this new style of art.

The Louvre

The Musée du Louvre in Paris is one of the most famous art museums in the world, and it contains an impressive collection, including many works by Monet. My favourite Monet at the Louvre is "The Gare Saint-Lazare," with a really pretty painting of a very unattractive place. The painting splendidly captures the energy of Paris when it was very much an industrial city.

The Gare Saint-Lazare by Claude Monet

You won't find Van Gogh paintings at the Louvre but there is one drawing called, Head of a Man. Visitors should be aware that the Louvre is huge... plan to spend several hours at the museum or choose to visit just one or two areas, if you have less time or a shorter attention span. Excellent audio guides in several languages are available at a modest cost.

The Musée d'Orsay

The Musee d'Orsay is my favourite of the Paris museums. The top floor is dedicated to impressionist and post-impressionist art, including works by Monet and Van Gogh amongst many other celebrated artists. The museum is located on the left bank of the Seine, in a former train station. It is open daily (except Monday) from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm. Admission costs 14 euros for adults, and tickets can be purchased online.

Upon arriving at the museum on this latest visit, I went immediately up to the 5th floor and headed to Monet's Nymphaes Bleus. The vibrant colours and intricate brushstrokes of these large-scale paintings left me in awe. I also really enjoyed Monet's Rouen Cathedral series, which depicts the famous cathedral in Rouen at different times of the day and in different lighting conditions.


Moving on to Van Gogh, I was particularly impressed by his Self-Portrait and Starry Night Over the Rhone. Van Gogh created more than 35 self-portraits during his life. The self-portrait in the d'Orsay captures Van Gogh's intense gaze. I am absolutely fascinated by how Van Gogh's brushstrokes make the background seem to be in motion.

Self Portrait by Vincent Van Gogh

The Starry Night painting, on the other hand, is more dreamlike with its swirling stars and rippling water. This particular version was one of his earlier ones. Later versions are more frenetic as Van Gogh's mental health deteriorated. I found Starry Night to be so fascinating that I bought a couple of embroidered couch cushion covers from the gift shop.

Starry Night on the Rhône by Vincent Van Gogh


For those planning a visit to the Musee d'Orsay, a morning visit is usually less crowded. There is a lot to see, so you might want to choose one or two exhibits to focus upon. The museum's official website provides detailed information on exhibitions, events, and ticket prices.

Musée de l'Orangerie

Another fabulous museum for Monet enthusiasts is the Musee de l'Orangerie, located in Tuileries Garden. The museum is open daily (except Tuesday) from 09:00 am to 18:00 pm, and admission is 9 euros. The highlight of the museum is the oval-shaped rooms that house Monet's oversized Water Lilies series. The rooms are spacious and will allow you to get close to the paintings or to sit on the provided benches to just soak it in.

The museum's official website offers useful information on exhibitions and guided tours.

Giverny

An art enthusiast's trip wouldn't be complete without a visit to Monet's home and Garden in Giverny. This quaint and charming town, located about 80 kilometres from Paris, was where Monet spent the last half of his life and created some of his most famous works.

Monet's house has been preserved as it was during his lifetime. Each room was decorated with vivid colours and accessories. The colourful rooms are decorated with Monet's extensive Japanese print collection, family portraits, and other assorted artworks collected by the artist or the artists who came to enjoy Monet's generous hospitality. Visitors can also visit Monet's studio, where he painted some of his most famous works.

The real highlight, however, is the gardens, which are a masterpiece in themselves. It is clear that these gardens were designed by an artist. The flower garden is a riot of colours and scents, with tulips, irises, peonies, and other flowers in bloom throughout the season. The water garden, with its Japanese bridge and water lilies, is the quintessential Monet landscape. It feels like you've stepped into one of Monet's paintings. I don't think I would have been surprised to see Monet quietly painting beside the pond.

Other amenities at Monet House are the gift shop, which sells a wide array of Monet reproductions and other souvenirs (some are actually priced fairly affordably), as well as the Musée des Impressionnismes, which features temporary exhibitions on impressionist art.


To get to Giverny from Paris, visitors can take a train from the Saint-Lazare station to Vernon, where they can catch a shuttle bus or taxi to Giverny. There are also many tour companies that offer day trips from Paris that include transportation and a guided tour of the gardens and house.

The gardens are open from late March to early November, and the house is open from April to November. Admission costs 12 euros and can be purchased online in advance.

Arles

For those interested in Van Gogh's life and work, a visit to Arles is essential. This charming and welcoming town in Provence is where Van Gogh created some of his most famous paintings, such as The Yellow House and The Night Café. The town also houses the Fondation Vincent van Gogh, which features exhibitions on Van Gogh's work and contemporary art. The Old Town remains much the same as it was when Van Gogh was living here.

I think you'll be as delighted as we were to enjoy meals and drinks in the very café from Van Gogh's painting. Our meals weren't that great but the atmosphere was inspiring and, again, let us feel as if we had stepped inside a famous painting.

Café Terrace At Night by Vincent Van Gogh

St. Rémy de Provence

Another attraction near Arles is the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum in St. Rémy, where Van Gogh stayed for a year. This is the place where Van Gogh voluntarily admitted himself in May 1889, after suffering from a mental breakdown. During his stay, he created some of his most famous paintings, including "Starry Night," "Irises," and "Cypresses."

Visitors can follow the Van Gogh Walk, which leads from the main square toward the Hospital Asylum. Along the route, there are excellent signs that include works created by Van Gogh and a description of his life and thoughts at the time. The signs often include snippets from Van Gogh's letters to his brother or friends.

The asylum was a former monastery converted into a mental hospital in the 19th century. Van Gogh was admitted to the north wing, which was reserved for male patients. He had a small room with a window overlooking the courtyard, where he spent most of his time painting.


Van Gogh's stay at the asylum was a period of intense creativity, but he was in a bad place mentally. He suffered from delusions and hallucinations. Many of his paintings from this period reflect his disturbed state of mind.

Today, the asylum is a museum that pays tribute to Van Gogh's life and works. Visitors can see the room where he stayed, and a recreation of his studio. The museum also has a collection of his paintings and drawings, as well as works by other artists who were inspired by him.


The asylum is open every day except Monday, from 09:30 am to 17:30 pm with a midday closure between 12:30 and 13:30. Admission is 7 euros.


Rouen

Monet lived briefly in Rouen, in Normandy. During the 1890s, Monet painted several works for his Rouen Cathedral series. This series of paintings captured how time of day and season affected the light and atmosphere of the Cathedral.

Rouen Cathedral: Magic in Blue by Claude Monet Musée d'Orsay

Honfleur

Another town with connections to Monet is Honfleur in Normandy. Monet spent several months there in the 1860s and painted many scenes of the town's harbour and surrounding countryside. The town's small museum, Musée Eugène Boudin is dedicated to the artist who most inspired Monet's works.

Le port de Honfleur by Claude Monet, Norton Simon Museum (Pasedena California)


France is a great place for art lovers and admirers of the works of Monet and Van Gogh, looking to see the places that inspired the famous paintings. From the bustling streets of Paris to the countryside charm of Giverny and the allure of the towns of Provence, you can explore the places that inspired these artists and see their works up close. Whether you are a seasoned art enthusiast or just starting to appreciate art, a visit to France is sure to leave a lasting impression and inspire a deeper appreciation of these two artists and the entire Impressionist movement.

 

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