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Claude Monet, the world famous French Impressionist master, was born in Paris but he was raised in Le Havre, in Normandy, where his talent bloomed.
After Art studies in Paris, it’s in Honfleur, as a student of Eugene Boudin and Johan Jongkind that he discovered the “open-air” painting. This was a very new technique for the time, and the public, used to impressive antique or historical scenes, painted indoor, didn’t understand right away. The first years of Monet as a painter were hard : he and his family often didn’t have enough to eat.
It did not matter ! Nothing could stop him. He was fascinated by the natural light and by the changing colors it created. His whole life was an attempt of fixing on the canvas fleeting effects, instants that are vanishing as fast as they appeared.
Normandy and its changeable weather, where the sun alternates with clouds, provided him perfect settings : the clear and colorful costumes of the wealthy tourists on Trouville beach, the show of the sea and the cliffs of Etretat, the façade of Rouen cathedral.
He finally settled in Giverny, a small farmer’s village in Norman countryside, with his family in 1883. He lived there until he died in 1926, happy and quietly enjoying the comfort of his life, once famous. He kept transforming his gardens to improve them year after year. He also created the Waterlily Pond and the Japanese Bridge, his last subjects of painting.
The city of Rouen has developed since the Roman times, on a meander of the Seine river. Ideally situated between Paris and the sea, it became the second richest city of the kingdom of France.
Main city of the county given to Rollo and his Normans in 911, the Dukes of Normandy let it prosper even more.
Normandy archbishopric‘s see, Rouen cathedral, crowned by the highest spire in France, is a work of art of gothic and flamboyant gothic architecture. Its exceptional dimensions are breathtaking, as well as the amazing façade covered by sculptures, like a lace of stone. Inside, the cathedral consists in a long narrow and high nave, ended by a choir full of light, some stained glasses from the 13th C. and some remarkable sculptures.
Monet was fascinated by the façade of the Rouen cathedral that he painted about 30 times, in different types of weather, and at different hours of the day.
One can find in the city a lot of other examples of the gothic, and flamboyant gothic architecture : the church St Ouen, church St Maclou, the Hall of Justice… These large and richly decorated monuments can be discovered by walking along cobbled streets that haven’t changed so much since middle ages and Renaissance times : entire streets of half-timbered houses, sometimes cantilevered.
Don’t miss the uncommon Aitre St Maclou, and ask your guide why it’s decorated by sculptures of bones and skulls… Go to see the Big Clock, which is like the emblem of Rouen and you will finally arrive on the market square, where Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake by the English during the Hundred Years War. Visit the modern church St Joan of Arc, built here after the Second World War, as a shrine for the beautiful stained glasses of the destroyed church St Vincent.
From the Viking invasions until the Impressionist painters, without forgetting the seafarers of the 16th and 17th c., the history of Honfleur is rich and the town remained authentic.
Go back in time wandering in narrow cobbled streets between half-timbered houses and get to the very picturesque Old Dock. Try to imagine the ships of seafarers, such as Samuel de Champlain, who left from Honfleur for his expeditions to Canada, and founded the city of Quebec in 1608.
The very special atmosphere of this place attracted painters : Courbet, Eugene Boudin, Jongkind or their “pupil”, Claude Monet and his Impressionist friends. Honfleur is still today a city of artists, with a lot of galleries.
You will get through the Caen gate and see the “ Lieutenance” only remnant of the old medieval fortifications. Keep going a little further through the old quarter of the ship-owners, and discover the uncommon church St Catherine, the biggest wooden church in France, which was built not long after the end of the Hundred Years War, by the ship-builders of Honfleur.
Then your guide can also lead you at the top of the hill “Côte de Grâce”, a pilgrimage place since the 10th C. From there the view on Honfleur and the impressive Normandy Bridge is outstanding ! The car will pass in front of the “Ferme St Siméon”, where Monet and the painters stayed in the 19th C..
Small fishing harbor on the mouth of the Touques river, it was discovered by some artists in their quest of returning to traditional and authentic life, far away from the big cities of the 19th C, turning noisy and dirty, because of the industrialization.
Becoming famous because of the numerous painters or authors who had fallen in love with the town, and the area, it attracted a lot of tourists and was transformed in a fancy beach-resort.
The first painters to discover Trouville were Charles Mozin, Eugene Isabey, Paul Huet. A lot of others followed like Eugene Boudin or Claude Monet who painted here Marines and colorful scenes of the elegantly dressed ladies and gentlemen wandering along the boardwalk put on the sand.
You can sit down and have some fresh seafood, or walk along the port where the fishing boats are laying down on the silt at low tide. You can keep going in front of the casino until you get to the famous boardwalk named “les Planches” in French (the planks), which was created in order to preserve the very costly handmade shoes of the rich tourists..