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One way to relive the first moment of Impressionism is to head to the very spot in Le Havre where it all started early one morning, and take in the light reflected in the water off the quaysides. It was here that Monet painted his famous 1872 painting, Impression, Sunrise, which gave its name to a whole art movement.
The port of Le Havre is the first part of the city that many visitors see, so why not start here, where the port’s everyday bustle so fascinated Boudin, Pissarro and their contempoaries. Boudin, generally regarded as a pre-Impressionist painter, made the port semaphore his subject in his painting, A gust of wind before Frascati, Le Havre, while Pissarro painted 20 views of the port during his stay at the Continental Hotel, opposite the pier-head.
Just a stone’s throw away you’ll see the unmistakable modern profile of the glass and concrete André Malraux Museum of Modern Art (MuMa). In this bright gallery, you will find the second-largest collections of Impressionist art in France outside Paris, and a feast of colour for the eye – Boudin, Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Degas and Sisley to name but a few – who opened up new horizons to others such as Dufy, Friesz and Braque. Don’t miss the museum cafe, which affords a fantastic view of the beach, sea and promenade. The latter is sometimes dubbed Nice Havrais, a sort-of Promenade des Anglais in the north of France, and continues all the way along the beach to the neighbouring town of Sainte-Adresse, where Monet painted Terrasse à Sainte-Adresse.
There has always been something special about the quality of the sky over Honfleur. Boudin must have got it right when he captured its ever-changing moods, and he was, after all, known as the ‘King of the skies.’ Visit his works at the Eugène Boudin Museum, to which he donated over 100 paintings. Over a period of over 15 years, he and his friends would meet up at the Ferme Saint-Siméon, an inn run by Old Mother Toutain. Today, it is a high-end five-star restaurant and hotel where you can enjoy your drink while imagining their heated debates about art. Honfleur is the perfect place for a stroll, around the historic harbour (Vieux Bassin) and up to the Church of Sainte-Catherine with its separate bell tower. Everywhere here is ‘as pretty as a picture!’
Trouville-Sur-Mer and Deauville
If you’re eager to experience Normandy’s seaside resorts through the eyes of Courbet, Boudin or Caillebotte, why not ‘walk the boardwalk’ in Trouville-sur-Mer or Deauville, where it is all too easy to imagine the 19th-century ladies in their crinolines and gents in their Sunday best. Further indulge your love of great art by popping into Deauville’s new cultural hub, Les Franciscaines, or enjoy a stroll along the seafront in either of these beautiful resorts, taking in the impressive Belle Epoque villas, grand hotels and picturesque bathing cabins.