The Argentan, Alençon and Mortain areas

The Argentan, Alençon and Mortain areas


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Our thanks to Jacques-Sylvain Klein, who very kindly made available to us texts which he has written for the "Guide du Routard des Impressionnistes en Normandie". To read these texts in full, readers are invited to purchase the "Guide du Routard" guidebook (in French), available from French bookshops. 

The Argentan, Alençon and Mortain areas

Although landscape painters often showed a preference for river banks and coastal scenery as their subject matter, painters such as Léger, Léandre, Mare, Géricault, Cotman, Corot, Courbet and Degas occasionally ventured into inland Normandy. In the areas of the Orne and Mortainais they discovered little-known sights of surprising beauty.


Sights of interest in Argentan include the Saint-Germain church, adorned with delicate lace-like stonework, some fine town houses, and the birthplace of the artist Léger at 5 rue des Jacobins.
Another native of Argentan, André Mare, a fellow student of Léger's who was also interested in the Art Deco style, initially flirted with Impressionism and the Nabi movement, before going on to design his "Cubist House" with Duchamp-Villon.

     • Racecourse
It was at the racecourse in Argentan that Degas painted his first series of horse races, as well as his masterpiece At the Races in the Country which he exhibited at the first Impressionist exhibition of 1874. 

Around Argentan

• Menil-Hubert
In 1861, the young Degas spent three weeks near Gacé. During his stay he explored the region and made numerous sketches, visiting Exmes, Camembert, Argentan and Le Haras-du-Pin.

• Le Haras-du-Pin
Degas greatly admired the work of Géricault and Delacroix, both of whom specialised in painting horses. It's hardly surprising, therefore, that the artist often visited Le Haras-du-Pin, so that he could study the anatomy of horses close at hand. This National Stud, which La Varende, the author of Nez-de-cuir (Nose of Leather), nicknamed the "Equestrian Versailles", is home to around sixty stallions from ten different breeds. Admire the magnificent stables, harness room, smithy and carriage room, as well as the Manège Géricault, where Bartabas filmed his movie Mazeppa on the life of the painter, who loved horses and who died after a fall from a horse.

• Alençon
Capital of the famous "point d’Alençon" (needlepoint) lace, which was worn in royal courts across Europe, Alençon attracted artists such as the English painter Cotman, who was fascinated by medieval architecture and whose splendid watercolour The Main Street at Alençon is on display in London. Corot also often visited Alençon.
His splendid watercolour The Main Street at Alençon depicting the busy street in front of Notre-Dame church, is on display in London. With this work, Cotman intended to draw an architectural parallel between Norfolk, his home county, and Normandy, which had a similar name and similar history. Corot was also a frequent visitor to Alençon.

     • Musée des Beaux-Arts et de la Dentelle
The museum's collection of paintings offers an introduction to 19th century art, from Realism (Courbet) to Impressionism (note the two superb works by Eugène Boudin), as well as a selection of Post-Impressionist paintings.


Situated in the Alpes Mancelles, this charming village is officially listed as "one of the most beautiful villages in France". It has a romantic atmosphere, with sandstone houses covered with wisteria and climbing roses, and boasts several beautiful buildings such as the old Roman bridge and Saint-Céneri chapel.
In the evenings, painters used to meet at the Auberge des Sœurs Moisy, where the walls are covered with portraits, silhouettes and graffiti in the famous "Salle des Décapités".
All of these works have been restored and are now listed national treasures.
      • Auberge des Sœurs Moisy
This unique inn is the jewel of the village, both in terms of its historical and artistic merit. From 1880 to 1920, more than 60 silhouettes were painted on the walls of the auberge, creating an unusual art collection. One of the artists depicted was Eugène Boudin.
During Whitsun weekend the village holds an open house event, during which paintings by local artists are exhibited in the houses of local inhabitants (over 40 venues in a village with just 140 residents!).


It's hardly surprising that, while searching for his Norman roots in the region, the English artist Cotman was drawn to this historical medieval town, which he depicted in a magnificent watercolour. It's worth taking time for a short stroll through the old town, which has lost none of its traditional charm.

Around Domfront

• Mortain
As a child, Géricault spent his holidays in Mortain, where he passed much of his time in the smithies and stables. In 1815, threatened with arrest during Napolean's short return to power, he took refuge in Mortain. During this enforced exile, he painted a whole series of animals and still lifes. 
In 1849, Corot discovered this verdant, rocky region with its beautiful waterfalls (Cascades de la Cance). He paid several visits to the region, making sketches which he later used as models for more polished works which he exhibited at the Salon. 
On a visit to Mortain in 1855 to paint the waterfalls, the artist Huet fell in love with this corner of the "Suisse Normande" (Norman Switzerland).

• Musée-château de Flers
This castle houses one of the best museums in the département, with an art section which includes the famous Boulevard Haussman by Caillebotte, as well as a Courbet, a Boudin, a Corot and numerous works by the Barbizon School.

Contacts and useful links  

Most of these websites are available in English. Once on these website, please click on your country flag.

In the Orne département
Argentan Tourist Office
Tel : 0033 233 67 12 48

Pays d’Alençon Tourist Office
Tel : 0033 233 80 66 33

Domfront Tourist Office
Tel : 0033 233 38 53 97

In the Manche département
Mortain Tourist Office
Tel : 0033 233 59 19 74

Discover a whole host of information on the Orne and La Manche Tourist Board websites.

Click here for the Normandy Impressionist Festival programme.


Things to see