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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.


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.