Updated on 13 March 2023
Reading time: 5 minutes
Looking to unleash your inner artist during your stay in Normandy? Delve into the world of Impressionism in the bucolic setting of the gardens of la Ferme Saint Simeon in Honfleur for a plein air painting workshop led by a talented local artist.
The Ferme Saint Siméon and impressionist painters
Without a doubt all who visit the birthplace of Impressionism are captivated by its beauty and mystery. Perched on the heights of Honfleur, la Ferme Saint Siméon was the gathering place for many 19th century painters such as Gustave Courbet, Claude Monet, Eugène Boudin and others to capture dreamy landscapes and indulge in their blissful pastime: plein air painting, while taking full advantage of the amazing quality of light that Normandy is famous for. This traditional 17th century Normand-style farmhouse served as an inn, an eatery but most of all as an artistic refuge in a special and creative environment. The thatched cottage itself, the dovecote, the beautiful Seine estuary light, the changing landscapes, the beauty of the surrounding nature, the apple trees provided the perfect backdrop to inspire the Impressionist masters.
Almost 150 years later, the Impressionist spirit of this rustic farm lives on, now converted in a stunning 5-star hotel part of the “Relais & Châteaux” network. You only have to wander around this timeless sanctuary and its restaurant “La Boucane” to see some of the incredible paintings it has inspired, notably a reproduction of Monet’s “Route sous la Neige” painted in 1865 and showcasing the thatched cottage on a winter’s day.
Luckily on the day of our workshop, there was no snow. Instead, a bright blue sky lighting up the estuary, the Pont de Normandie and the lush garden displaying intense shades of green. What an idyllic decor to set up our easels in the middle of the apple trees under the direction of Laurent, our tutor and local artist from Honfleur. Wearing a striped jersey and a French beret, he pulls out of his briefcase all the art supplies needs to get started: thick paper and sketchbooks, paintbrushes, palettes, water and cups, soap and rags, and most importantly several boxes of watercolour paint, his area of expertise.
Painting a traditional norman thatched cottage
We settle in the gardens facing the obvious subject of the day: the historic thatched, half-timbered cottage of La Ferme Saint Siméon, nowadays known as La Boucane. “Today you will create something beautiful as a memento of your stay” Laurent promises before giving us the first instructions. “With watercolour, start from the lightest to the darkest shades and take your time“. Watercolour lends itself perfectly to the Impressionist style and his step-by-step approach explores the techniques used by some of the most influential artists of the late 19th century “You know you will have to sign your art work, don’t you? ” he says with a smile as we grab our paintbrushes.
Before we start to paint, we work out our composition as a sketch with a pencil, drawing the first lines and shaping out proportions. “Look closely, open your eyes wide” he says. In fact, Claude Monet himself recognized that Eugène Boudin taught him how to train his eyes on long outings during which they painted constantly from nature. Painting is the art of observation, definitely a skill to gain in order to translate the beauty of nature into works of art. It’s time to start playing with colours and applying them to paper! Blue for the sky and different shades of green for the garden. Using hands-on experimentation, Laurent teaches us the fundamentals through transparent and opaque painting methods. His unique teaching style and insightful approach inspires our creativity. “Don’t forget to leave clear areas and step back now and again to observe your work,” he advises.
Now comes the time to focus on our subject : the thatched cottage. With small brushstrokes, we outline the structure of the building. Our works begin to take shape, and as Laurent had mentioned, colours gradually fade out. Immersed in the moment, nurturing a burgeoning talent, we develop our own style of painting. And what a surprising result! We were far from imagining we would actually create frame-worthy works! The last step involves using Indian ink to accentuate some of the details and adding depth to the painting. Finally, we proudly sign our art work marking it as complete!
Keep the inspiration flowing
Following in the footsteps of artists who extended their stay at the Ferme Saint Simeon, we found it difficult to leave such a mind-blowing place! We decided to explore the surroundings on a horse-drawn carriage ride and upon our return, treated our taste buds to a wonderful meal at the “bistronomic” restaurant La Boucane. What a burst of colours on our plates! We enjoyed every minute sampling the delicious local cuisine with a plunging view on Monet’s painting! Oh yes, Impressionism is truly alive in Normandy!
Painting Class & Lunch at la Ferme Saint Siméon
20 rue Adolphe Marais
+ 33 (0)2 31 81 78 00
Bookings by phone or email only.
All year round, once a week depending on the availability of Laurent, the painting teacher.
Duration: 2 hours
230 € per person for the painting class, lunch at La Boucane restaurant included (minimum of 2 people)
Overnight stay at La Ferme Saint Siméon
Standard room from 215 € to 435 € per night.
Room 22 (luxury room) is quite unique: it used to be Claude Monet’s favorite room when he stayed here. It is a very bright room facing the Seine estuary!
All of the above information is subject to change