By Patricia Woeber
We go to museums to enrich our lives. We look, we wonder. How did Claude Monet manage to accomplish such brilliant paintings and do about 250 canvases of his lily ponds? How did Edgar Degas achieve such beauty depicting ballet dancers with pastel crayons? We marvel as our eyes travel along his lively black outlines that give elegant form to the dancers' limbs and tutus.
In France, Normandy is preparing a festival with several Impressionist art shows running simultaneously throughout the region from April 16 to Sept. 16, 2016. This year is the third time the region will offer exciting exhibitions of great Impressionist art.
The museums in cities, towns and even tiny villages will participate, with the main themes being portraits and the lives of the painters. The exhibitions will reveal their personal views and private histories through their art, photos and personal letters.
Degas, Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edouard Manet, Camille Pissarro, Paul Cezanne, Gustave Caillebotte, Mary Cassatt, Berthe Morisot and other Impressionists created enduring portraiture and emphasized the importance of the human figure. Through their paintings they allow us to gaze at their faces of families and friends.
The art displayed will range from Degas' depictions of intimate scenes of nudes to Monet's early satirical drawings. The powerful portrait of painter Berthe Morisot is striking. The artists gave us interior and exterior scenes of daily life with people walking, sitting, socializing and working. For example, the interiors of their homes provided inspiration for Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard and show us intimate glimpses into their lives.
During the "Normandie Impressionniste Festival" hundreds of major paintings will be displayed in Normandy's main museums: Le Havre's Andre Malraux Museum, Rouen's Museum de Beaux-Arts (founded by Napoleon), Caen's Museum de Beaux-Arts and Giverny's Impressionist Museum.
Furthermore, the rich collections owned by France and several of the leading museums worldwide will be on loan for the duration of the festival. To get a sense of the scope of this amazing event, the paintings on loan come from the following: In France, Paris' Musee d'Orsay, Musee de l'Orangerie and Musee Marmottan Monet. From the United States: New York's Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Washington's National Gallery, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Dallas Museum of Art and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.
From other countries in Europe: Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum, Scotland's National Gallery, London's Tate and National Gallery, and museums in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Germany are all sending paintings, too.
Sculptors on exhibition include Auguste Rodin and Degas, whom Renoir described as, "the genuine Impressionist sculptor."
On top of all of this, the festival will offer a wide variety of fun and informative cultural events, including music, classical concerts, literature, sound and light shows and luncheons on the grass. And the region's towns and ancient villages have museums and artists' homes displaying Impressionist art.
In addition, Normandy boasts the Seine River, scenic villages, woods, meadows, and more than 400 miles of coastline with beaches, cliffs, dunes and shoreline walking paths. For centuries, the Seine River has played a crucial role in France's culture and economy. The river was thought of as "the high street" through Paris and Rouen to Le Havre at the English Channel (to the North Sea), and trading between these cities resulted in their growth as great ports.
In the late 1800s other changes had taken place and reshaped activities and living conditions in France. The modernization of Paris and the use of steam for ships and excursion trains had a huge role in the growing economy. Moreover, the pleasure of travel on the Seine encouraged people to take excursions on and along the river and to the coast for weekends and holidays.
These changes popularized new activities in different places for the Impressionists and ordinary people. At that time, when Impressionism flourished, the Seine's scenery brought inspiration to the artists, and many of them left Paris to live in riverside villages.
This year, the festival's museum tours will be particularly delightful with the main themes dedicated to portraits and people. Impressionism's new painting style and themes were completely different from the customary realistic art that illustrated myths, religion and history. The Parisians were shocked.
Through their landscape paintings the Impressionists have taken us into Normandy's lovely countryside to many marvelous destinations, including Mont-St-Michel and several of the most beautiful villages in France. These include the ancient harbors of Honfleur (with the Boudin Museum) and Barfleur.
The painters enjoyed other coastal sites such as Fecamp and Etretat, which Monet and Gustave Courbet painted. For garden-lovers, the region boasts several of the most beautiful gardens in France. One of them is Monet's Giverny with lily ponds, and another is Bois des Moutiers (near Dieppe), where Monet painted.
During the Normandy Impressionist Festival, works of famous artists from other countries and also worthy although lesser- known artists will also be on display: a retrospective of Norwegian painter Frits Thaulow in Caen, Spanish painter Joaqun Sorolla in Giverny, Rene Sautin in Musee Nicolas Poussin in Les Andelys, Marie Bracquemond and Eva Gonzales in Musee Poulain, Vernon, Henri Pacquet in Musee Quesnel-Moriniere in Coutances and Felix Buhot in the Musee Thomas Henry, Cherbourg-Octeville.
John Batho's color photographs will be in Musee de Normandie, Caen, Millet and the "First Photographers" in Jean-Francois Millet's birthplace-home in Gruchy de la Manche (west of Cherbourg). In quest of Identity - Portrait of Today will be at Abbaye de Jumieges, also in Jumieges, photographed portraits done by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Guy Le Querrec and Martin Parr.
Through their art the Impressionists have welcomed us into their world.
WHEN YOU GO
The Normandy Region is close to Paris and easy to reach with excellent train service and highways. Trains run frequently from Paris Saint-Lazare station to Vernon. Once there, rent a (previously reserved) auto. Or take a shuttle bus (frequent) to Giverny. For trains: www.sncf.fr.
The Normandy Impressionist Festival: www.normandie-impressionniste.eu
Musee Impressionismes in Giverny: www.mdig.fr
Monet's Giverny home, garden and lily ponds: www.giverny.org
Giverny has several boutiques, galleries and restaurants: www.giverny.fr.
Le Havre Musee Malraux: www.muma-lehavre.fr/en.
In Paris, the Musee de l'Orangerie: www.musee-orangerie.fr, the Musee d'Orsay:
www.musee-orsay.fr/en and Museum Marmottan-Monet: www.marmottan.fr
For accommodations, La Reserve B&B in the hills above Giverny: www.giverny-lareserve.com. There are a dozen B&Bs and some hotels in Giverny.
Chateau de la Pommeraye (south of Caen): www.chateaudelapommeraye.com
Chateau de Saint-Paterne, near Alencon: www.chateau-saintpaterne.com
Chateau de Sarceaux in Alencon (Valframbert):www.chateau-de-sarceaux.com
B&B Manoir de Coutainville: www.manoir-de-coutainville.com
B&B Villa Saint Jean, Mont-Saint-Michel Bay: www.villasaintjean.com/
Before going to the festival, I recommended reading "The Private Lives of the Impressionists" by Sue Roe.
For general information: Rouen: www.rouentourisme.com, www.seine-maritime-tourisme.com
The most beautiful villages in France: www.france-beautiful-villages.org/en
France tourism: www.france.com
Patricia Woeber is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.