Meeting the Impressionists in France
with Artist Christina Thoen
Along the French Impressionist Path as been a theme tour for VM Travel since 2005 and every year I manage to find some new gems to help us better understand the lives of these renegade artists!
This June, Christina Thoen, artist and certified art teacher and eleven of her students landed in Nice, France to learn their stories.
The first day we gathered in the 15th century artist town of St Paul de Vence. After perusing the art boutiques of this village we delighted in a gourmet lunch in the gardens of Colombe d’Or, a favourite of Picasso and Matisse whose works still adorn the walls of the antique dining room.
Close to Nice and the Mediterranean Sea lies Les Colettes, Renoir’s estate where he lived with his wife Aline and their children. His motivation to move to the Côte d’Azur was to ease the discomfort of his rheumatoid arthritis in order to finish his days as an artist. Many of his compatriots joined him under the ancient twisted olive trees which still adorn the gardens to this day.
Further along the autroroute in Aix-en-Provence, Cézanne’s studio remains untouched. One feels his presence in this small space. His cloak and umbrella in the corner remind us of his daily treks along the country road to Mont St Victoire which he captured on canvas 142 times.
That afternoon at the beach in the pastel fishing village of Cassis resulted in some reference photography before we headed off to the Mas St Antoine just south of Avignon to our garden lodging. The Kiwis, gardeners and cooks shared the culinary delights of Provence with us under the Platane trees. We were to enjoy five warm, sunny days in this gite lodging. In fact our first day we spent at the Mas with a breakfast of croissants, cheeses and delicious coffee before taking a dip in the pool before Christina gave us our first lesson in water colours!
The next day a refreshing rain cleared the air so the colours popped in the Provençale countryside. After our visit to a winery in the reputed Chateauneuf-du-Pape which gave us the scoop of these world renown wines, we were anxious to capture these intense colours with our brushes.
Every Wednesday St Remy de Provence hosts one of the most colourful markets(more reference photography) in the south of France. Close by is St Paul Maussole where Van Gogh was hospitalized with roaming privileges, resulting in some of his most famous pieces: Sunflowers, Irises, and Starry Night. We chose to sit amongst the Olive Trees, as he did, to capture the light and shadows of these cranky trees with the blue Alpilles mountains looming in the background. Just by chance, we enjoyed a Van Gogh presentation in the Image Cathedral of Les Baux de Provence!
Thursday we continued down the Van Gogh path in the Roman city of Arles as I led us along his footsteps, past the Yellow House (no longer standing), the Arles Arena, the Hotel Dieu where he was hospitalized and painted the garden, then on to the Place du Forum (Roman) where we enjoyed a pastis and lunch at the Café Van Gogh. This is the Café La Nuit, Christina’s favourite so we all painted the bright yellow awning just a Vincent did! What a lovely connection!
Gourmet Pizza Night around the pool was our farewell dinner with the Kiwis (Keryn and Kerrin) as we prepared to leave vibrant Provence for Paris!
With the theme of Impressionist Art our Paris visit included the Musée d’Orsay (the former Gare d’Orsay turned into the impressionist art museum) and the Orangerie housing Monet’s giant water lilies. The morning on the Butte Montmartre where the impressionists regrouped helped us understand the support they got from each other as they initiated their own Salon des Refusés of which there were 7 before they became accepted into the art world.
Our day in the country in Giverny, Monet’s Gardens was busy with tourists, but the garden and the lily ponds were in their glory for everyone to see. We returned to Paris via Auvers-sur-Oise, the small village where Vincent Van Gogh died and is buried next to his brother Theo in the village cemetery. The Cathedral (famous Van Gogh Painting) is also in this village so we spent our fourth lesson with Christina in the shadows of this ominous structure. A touching final moment was standing in Vincent’s bedroom in Auberge Ravoux as our guide described the final days of his life. It was a somber ride back to Paris!
Our farewell dinner at the 120 year old Chartier Restaurant and our evening cruise along the Seine, around Notre Dame and past the twinkling Eiffel Tower was a glorious finish to our tour to Meet the Impressionists in France!
Thanks Christina! Merci beaucoup to all of you: Janelle, Bonnie, Simon, Kelly, Colleen, Cory, Denise, Nicole, Phoenix, Diane, Madelaine and Maria. You were great travellers!
2021! Venice and Croatia!