Everyone seems to know this Paris it was the heart of the art world in the 19thth a century. However, what most people don’t seem to know is that impressionism didn’t start in Paris but in a small port town in Normandy (more on that later!).
Normandy seems to attract artists from all over France. Artists such as Raoul Dufy, Alfred Sisley, Eugene Boudin, Edouard Manet & Berthe Morisot to name a few, were drawn to the beauty of Normandy. They filled their canvases with paintings of seaside villages, the beautiful white cliffs of the Alabaster Coast and Normandy life during the 19th century.th a century
As a result, Normandy it has a rich artistic history.
In the Footsteps of the Impressionists in Normandy
There are many beautiful sites to visit in Normandy. However the four main places that are significant for impressionism paintings are:
- Honfleur – The small village where Impressionism actually began
- Etretat on the Alabaster coast. The brilliant white cliffs were the subject of many canvases painted by Monet and other French painters
- Giverny-the picturesque village where Claude Monet lived for more than 40 years
- Le Havre – The seaside town that houses an impressive Impressionist art museum – MuMa and is the birthplace of the post-impressionist, Raoul Dufy
The Medieval Port City – Honfleur
Most art historians agree that Honfleur is the birthplace of impressionism.
Eugene Boudin painter of Honfleur recognized the talent of a young man called Claude Monet. He offered to take him to his hometown, Honfleur. There he taught Monet to paint outdoors (plein-air painting) and capture the changing light on his canvas.
This was a totally new concept. Monet fell in love with nature and his style changed. He painted in brighter colors and painted the nature around him… .. Impressionism was thought (although it still didn’t have a name)!
Today, Honfleur’s main attraction is that time seems to have stood still. You feel like you’re still 19th century or even earlier!
Honfleur is a charming medieval port village. More than a century ago, ship owners made their fortunes from sea trade. Wealthy ship owners built tall houses for their families, packed tightly together around the Vieux Bassin, the center of the port.
Today, this port no longer receives commercial ships or fishing boats, but the mega-yachts and fancy sailboats of the rich.
The main town square is the heart of the village. From the square, narrow and blurring alleys branch off in all directions. The views everywhere in this city are picture perfect. Almost like an Impressionism painting.
Old-time French charm can be seen everywhere, from the narrow old Norman-style half-timbered houses, to the small food shops selling local goods and to the small cafes and restaurants dotted around the village. This place is a picturesque gem.
The Eugene Boudin Museum
In Honfleur there is a wonderful, small and unassuming art museum called The Eugene Boudin Museum. This museum is located in the old quarter of Honfleur. It primarily shows artworks of the Honfleur school of painting and also landscape paintings of the Normandy area. You will see some of Monet’s early paintings here as well.
The White Chalk Cliffs of Etretat
The white cliffs of Etretat are stunning. When you see them, you will understand why so many artists flock to this beach for creative inspiration.
“Etretat is becoming more and more amazing. Now is the real moment: the bay with all its good boats; it’s great, and I’m angry that I’m not more skillful to do it all. I will need two hands and hundreds of canvases” -Quote Claude Monet-
Etretat is located on the Alabaster Coast in Upper Normandy. It is 20 kilometers north of Le Havre and two hours drive from Paris.
The beach is not big but at each end you see two majestic white chalk cliffs. They wonder naturally!
The town of Etretat is also worth a visit, but to be honest, it’s the cliffs and the great beach that bring in the masses of visitors from near and far.
What to do and see in Etretat
To see the views from the top, there is a wonderful trail to the top of the cliff. It is a steep and strenuous hike but once you reach the top, you will be rewarded with the BEST views. It is highly recommended to climb both cliffs as you will see different views from each cliff.
Walk along the Promenade on Etretat Beach
A leisurely stroll along the promenade is fantastic. Along the way, you will see German bunkers built into the rock, a sad reminder of the German occupation during WW2. There are large signs providing the visitor with historical information about this beach during WW2 and Etretat’s past. It’s really interesting, even if you’re not a history buff!
Take a Swim in the Sparkling Blue Sea!
In the summer, there is nothing more refreshing than taking a dip in the sea. All the beaches along the Normandy coast are pebble beaches, so not so comfortable to sunbathe on…
Note: In the summer months of July and August, and particularly at weekends, Etretat beach is choc-a-block with locals and tourists! So if you want to visit then, I suggest you get there early and beat the crowds!
The city of Le Havre welcomes the impressive Museum of Modern Art – André-Malraux (MuMa).
This museum displays one of the best Impressionist collections in the world. If you love impressionism, this museum is not to be missed! All the great painters like Monet, Manet, Renoir, Sisley, Degas, Dufy to name a few are here….
There is also a wonderful permanent exhibition of the Normandy-born artist and forerunner of impressionism, Eugene Boudin.
Another HUGE bonus is that this museum is not as crowded as the Musee D’Orsay in Paris and sometimes when you visit mid-week and low season, you can have all the impressionists all to yourself!!
Giverny – Home of Monet and Magnificent Gardens
Finally, one of the most famous attractions in Normandy is the magnificent house and gardens of Monet in Giverny. If you follow the impressionists, this place is a MUST!
Today, Monet’s house and gardens are open to the public. In the gardens you feel like walking inside a Monet painting. You will see all the iconic subjects of so many of his most famous paintings – the beautiful green Japanese bridge, the famous pond full of water lilies and colorful and fragrant flowers and fauna…a feast for the senses.
“My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.”
―Quotation Claude Monet ―
The house is also beautiful and full of old time charm. In one room there is even an exhibition of some Monet paintings. However the gardens are the main attraction and attract more than half a million visitors each year.
The Impressionists certainly had an eye for beauty and it’s no wonder they loved Normandy.
the good journey
Blurb about me: I am Jeanette, 55 years old a great lover of art, travel, walking, reading and my beautiful family. I wrote a blog that combines travel, art and reading! Have a peak www.itravelwithart.com