France’s vivid colors sparked a creative revolution in the late 1800s. As beautiful as the Impressionist masterpieces of this era are, the sites that inspired them might look even better in person.
France’s vivid colors sparked a creative revolution in the late 1800s – forever changing the way we see. As beautiful as the Impressionist masterpieces of this era are, however, the sites that inspired them might look even better in person. In Paris and the surrounding regions, art lovers have a chance to see through the eyes of these incredible artists.
Let’s start at the beginning. The Impressionist movement was named after Claude Monet’s Impression, the painter’s dazzling 1874 rendering of a sunrise in Le Havre, Giverny. The artist’s well-preserved gardens and home here – just a short, scenic drive from Paris – are now open to the public (the gardens are generally open late March through November). You’ll see the famous Water Lilies, the Clos Normand flower garden, the famed Japanese footbridge and more, all bathed in the wondrous Seine Valley light that delighted Monet.
Museum of Impressionism Giverny
While you’re in Giverny, don’t miss the chance to pay a visit to the Museum of Impressionism here (open March to November), a fascinating attraction dedicated to exploring the development of the Impressionist movement, and is home to several masterpieces by Monet, Alfred Sisley, and many more. With interactive elements and painting workshops, it’s a great spot for families. Good to know: the museum is located on the site that contained the haystacks painted by Monet in 1891.
The Impressionists flocked to the Montmarte area of Paris, thanks to its cheap rent, carefree locals and, of course, beautiful colors. As you explore the charming streets here, you’ll come across the barely changed subjects of many Impressionist works: feast your eyes on Utrillo’s gloriously pink-walled Maison Rose (now a restaurant); wander down Cezanne’s evocative Rue des Saules; cast your eyes up as you stroll through Moulin de la Gaulette, famously painted by Renoir, still sporting a lovely windmill on its roof.
Monet, Degas and other Impressionists would regularly meet up at this beautiful Paris location to discuss and strategize, Édouard Manet immortalized the festive scene on canvas here in his detailed “Music in the Tuileries Garden,” as did Camille Pisarro in his lovely “The Garden of the Tuileries on a Spring Morning.” Located between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde, you can easily spend an afternoon exploring the shady paths and lush gardens. You may also want to pay a visit to the three-Michelin star Alléno Paris Carré des Champs-Elysées, one of Paris’ finest restaurants – and Monet and Degas’ preferred lunching option.
Outside of Paris, the Impressionists’ favored city was Barbizon, located just under an hour’s drive from the French capital. Once you arrive, you’ll quickly understand why as you wander its pretty little streets and follow in the footsteps of the Barbizon painters (including Théodore Rousseau and Jean-François Millet) through the picturesque Forest of Fontainebleau, which Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Frédéric Bazille, and many other artists attempted to capture on canvas.
Vincent Van Gogh’s short, tragic life ended in this peaceful village 20 miles outside of Paris – but not before he created more than 60 typically spectacular paintings of the landscapes of Auvers-sur-Oise. The village may have grown a bit since Van Gogh’s day, but it retains its classic countryside charm, and you can see the wheat fields, the irises, and many of the buildings that inspired this iconic artist. Don’t miss the Roman Gothic church that served as the subject for one of Vincent’s most famous works, “Church at Auvers.” And end your day trip with a visit to the town cemetery, the artist’s final resting place, next to his devoted brother Theo.