Landscape painters who escaped from their workshops and walked the grounds in search of inspiration, the Impressionists left a legacy of works of art focusing on flora and fauna and light and shade. While others shelter from the cold in crowded museums and exhibitions to see the most recent releases, why not spend the weekend discovering the actual places that inspired these great painters?
Just a few kilometres from Paris, Auvers-sur-Oise was made famous by the canvas painting L'Eglise d'Auvers-sur-Oise by Vincent Van Gogh. This village has always inspired painters and artists alike. Practically unchanged since the 19th century, Auvers-sur-Oise gives visitors the impression that they have stepped back in time into the famous paintings.
Here, you will find stone houses, ivy creeping up the walls, steep winding paths and fields of wheat?The first impressionist painter to settle in Auvers-sur-Oise was Charles-François Daubigny, whose house you can visit, and who also has a museum dedicated to him. The painter's home is a work of art in itself as the inside walls were decorated by Daubigny and his friends.
A little further out of Paris, just a stone's throw from the Fontainebleau Forest, you will find Barbizon. 'The painters'' village, as it has been called since 1815, was a favourite with young painters influenced by English landscape artists. Originating from a trend towards landscape paintings and later taking on a life of its own as the Ecole de Barbizon, this style of painting was born from a desire for freedom and a need to express oneself which was typical of the generation of painters who lived here and who preferred to spend time outdoors than in their workshops. Théodore Rousseau, Jean François Millet, Corot, Daubigny, Kniff and Bodmer all walked the roads of this little village repeatedly, often spontaneously stopping to sit on the pavement to paint their chosen subject.
In 1863, the young generation - Monet, Sisley, Bazille - came here to join their elders. Nowadays, Barbizon has managed to maintain some of the old character of the 'impressionist village', and visitors can see the place where Manet painted Le déjeuner sur l'herbe in spring 1863.
Back up in the north, and a real Mecca for impressionist tourism, visiting Giverny is like stepping into one of Claude Monet's paintings. The famous painter lived there between 1883 and 1926, and used this time to create his magnificent garden. Passionate about gardening, Monet saw this green space as a real work of art. The water garden, with strong Eastern influences, brought as much pleasure to Monet when he was creating it as it brings to visitors today who come to admire the beauty. Bamboos, gingkos, maple trees, peonies, Japanese lilies and willows of the water garden perfectly complement the tulips, daffodils and irises in the flower garden in front of the house. Visit in autumn to see the garden at its golden and auburn best.
The house itself has been kept mostly in the same state as it was when Monet lived there. The salon bleu on the ground floor, the spice room, the workshop (rebuilt in 2011), the dining room, the kitchen and the private apartments of the painter himself - all remains as it was when Monet lived there 100 years ago.
To complete your visit to the village full of history that is Giverny, and to improve your knowledge of the impressionist movement, visit the Impressionist Museum where you can discover all the stories of the little town's past and walk the grounds of the museum's gardens - a beautiful attraction in their own right.A weekend of wine trails