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Rouen is so many things, a forcing house for Impressionism, a centre of flamboyant gothic architecture, and famous for its medieval streets and alleyways redolent of history. Monet, Pissarro and Sisley are just a few of the school of painters who found inspiration in the changeable moods of this great city.
Monet and Rouen Cathedral
Between 1892 and 1893 Monet set up his easels in a first-floor studio (above the present Tourist Office) opposite the vast west front of the cathedral and laboured to capture the fleeting effects of light on the west front. When you stand there yourself the impression is overwhelming, and the eye is taken up to the dizzying heights of its spire. Over 30 canvases were the result. In the bustling highways and byways clustering around the cathedral you will come across the frescoes large and small of street art that form part of the Rouen impressionnée event – itself part of the broader Normandie Impressionniste Festival. Oil paints and palettes, spray cans and street art – Rouen, the capital of Normandy, seems an endless creative inspiration for artists working outdoors!
Larger than life
After a gourmand break in the Vieux Carré, with its courtyard bedecked in flowers, or in the Brasserie Paul, the watering hole of many a famous artist, why not head off to the Fine Arts Museum, for there you will find several major works by Monet (Rouen Cathedral), Pissarro (Misty sunset over Boieldieu Bridge, Rouen), Caillebotte and Sisley. There’s a whole section devoted to the Rouen school of painting, with artists such as Lebourg, Angrand and Delattre who all loved to paint views of the banks of the Seine. The sweeping meanders of the river are the delight of painters past and present, of bikers, hikers and walkers today. The length of the river you will discover representations of the paintings that allow you to see in situ how these viewpoints seemed to those who painted them.
a river of colours
Take off on foot, like Sisley, through the country, or take a towpath at Sahurs where the village of La Bouille opposite, made famous by so many painters, sports a cluster of charming art galleries to browse. You can enjoy your meal by the water at the Saint-Pierre restaurant, all you have to do is take the ferry with your bike and pedal off along the Seine to get your own….impressions.
Further on you come to Duclair, then the imposing ruins of Jumièges Abbey come into view, before coming to Saint-Wandrille and the little riverside town of Caudebec-en-Caux (also now known as Rives-en-Seine), sketched by Boudin. The Muséoseine on the quayside invites the visitor to discover the history of the river through landscapes as represented by the Impressionists.
Towards sunset it is always pleasant to walk or cycle back to Rouen following the ‘fruit road’ which follows the riverside fields and orchards of apple, pear and plum trees. If you can do it when they are in bloom or in fruit, then so much the better! Some farmers will be happy to sell their produce at the farm gate, a perfect opportunity to load yourself up with local produce – and stagger back to town with basketloads of produits gourmands. Best to divest yourself of them before enjoying the gigantic, mind-blowing sound & light show projected onto the west front of the cathedral.