We tend to visit a lot of places because of their historical importance, the events that took place in them and for the people who made history there. During my recent road trip around Northern France I felt something I’d never felt before!
There were a lot of places of great historical significance, but there was an abundance of beauty everywhere I turned, as well!
That bell tower in Honfleur
And when I was having a late evening stroll in the empty streets of the beautiful port town of Honfleur, Normandy it struck me: I’ve seen this beautiful bell tower somewhere before and I was not the only one who had admired this small wooden church! Many moons ago the genius Claude Monet himself was also walking around this place, too! And maybe he took some minutes like me, or maybe hours, to stare at this bell tower. And he felt so inspired that he wanted to share it with the world and painted it!
The “Bell Tower of Saint-Catherine at Honfleur” was painted in 1917 and the artist painted quite a few other parts of the town.
The thought of sharing paths, visions and emotions with an artist that I admire gave me goosebumps! But this was just the first time I would cross paths with him while in France. Virtually that is!
Those breathtaking cliffs in Étretat
Claude Monet is more famous for his depictions of nature and landscapes rather than of man made structures, like the bell tower in Honfleur.
Étretat is one of those places that leave you with awe as soon as you stand on top of its rocks and have a 360° view of its wild landscape! Its small bay looks very pretty from above, but it’s the wilderness of the cliffs that made Monet paint “Gros Temps à Étretat” (“Rough weather at Etretat”) in 1883.
The artist was there for a working holiday in the winter of 1883. He’s framed his work in such a way that focuses upon the awesome power of nature and uses tiny human figures to emphasise that.
I happened to be in Melbourne, Australia 2 weeks after my visit to France and I was happy to revisit Étretat through this artwork, exhibited at the National Gallery of Victoria.
His own house and gardens in Giverny
If there’s one thing that Monet is famous about is, of course, his water lily themed paintings. Sometimes, no matter how much you travel, you can find inspiration in your own backyard.
His house is located in Giverny, not too far north of Paris and it’s surrounded by beautiful gardens and a water lily pond, the main source of his inspiration. Water lilies dominate so many of his works that walking around that pond in Giverny really made you feel like you’re part of a painting! Especially if you could picture your surroundings in an impressionistic style!
Monet and his family moved to this house in 1883. He used local and imported water lilies as part of a vast landscaping project and in 1899 he would start painting them for the rest of his life.
The historical gossip!
The imported water lilies caused the objection of his neighbours and city council at the time! They feared the water of the area would be poisoned, but, thankfully for art, he ignored them! Read here for more things you might not know about those water lilies!
You can, also, read a little bit more on the house and gardens on Lana’s Footprints, who has a slightly different perspective than mine.
I had the pleasure of seeing a lot of his water lily paintings at the “Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse” exhibition in London’s Royal Academy of Arts in March 2016. Let me tell you though that it was the busiest exhibition or museum I’ve ever been to! It was so crowded that in many occasions you could barely approach the artworks and have a proper look at them! Annoying!
A rough idea of the itinerary
Where to cross paths with Monet!