Cherbourg, the Cotentin and Saint-Lô
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.
Cherbourg, the Cotentin and Saint-Lô
The artist Millet is as important to Lower Normandy as Monet is to Upper Normandy. According to Van Gogh "it is Millet rather than Monet who is the essentially modern painter to have opened new horizons." Millet was born and grew up in the hamlet of Gruchy, overlooking the sea.
Although Millet is, along with Courbet, one of the leading artists of Realism, some of his paintings, such as Le Castel Vendon, prefigure the works of the Impressionists.However, Millet was not the only painter to be attracted by the varied wild and peaceful landscapes of the Cotentin: Guillemet and Boudin set up their easels at Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, Signac and Valtat painted in Barfleur, and Corot worked in Saint-Lô.
It was in Cherbourg that Millet first trained as a painter, initially in the studio of Bon Mouchel, then that of Langlois, but mostly in the museum which opened in 1835 and where he copied the paintings of great masters such as Poussin. In an apartment in rue Tour-Carrée he painted his famous Norman Milkmaid, as well as his magnificent Castel Vendon, a painting of a rock which towers over the sea near Gruchy.
• Musée Thomas-HenryCherbourg's museum houses the largest collection of Millet's work in France, after the Louvre. From the outset, the artist was recognised as a gifted portrait painter, as his paintings Portrait of Armand Ono, his brother-in-law, and Portrait of Pauline Ono, his wife, testify. His Cliffs of La Hague, painted with wide brushstrokes, and his Storm demonstrate his skill as a landscape painter. The recently purchased Charity is a remarkable work which is from the same period as the famous Angelus, which became one of the most celebrated images of prayer in France. The museum also highlights work by artists from the Cotentin. The Return of the Fishing Fleet by Boudin is of particular interest.More information on the Musée Thomas-HenryWebsite As part of the Normandy Impressionist Festival, the Musée Thomas-Henry will be hosting the exhibition Millet, at the dawn of Impressionism.
• Urville-NacquevilleThis has been a popular beach since the 19th century, when locals from Cherbourg would take the tram here for a day out by the sea. Millet's superb pastel painting The Sea View from Landemer depicts a distant view of the shore here.
The commune of Gréville-Hague boasts an infinite variety of landscapes, each more enchanting than the next. Sights of interest in the local area include the old church dominating the centre of the village, the inland hamlets, and the indented coastline of towering cliffs which stretches for more than 6km. Also worth a visit is the hamlet of Gruchy, which runs down to the sea through a landscape of rocks, bracken and broom. It was here that Millet's family of poor, pious yet cultured labourers once lived.
• Sainte-Colombe churchDuring the 1870 war, Millet took refuge in his native region and turned his attention to some of the oldest buildings in the area. The simple architectural style of Gréville Church, dating from the 12th century, is a striking example of eternity, a quality which the painter was keen to represent.
• The hamlet of Gruchy and Jean-François Millet's birthplaceIt's well worth visiting the hamlet where Millet lived until he was 21 years old, and taking the time to follow some of the footpaths which criss-cross the surrounding countryside and lead down to the sea. The hamlet is home to the house where Jean-François Millet was born. The artist often painted this building, now transformed into a museum where you can learn all about the painter's life by following a themed itinerary. The museum presents information on Millet's rural childhood, his life and works, and the incredible fame enjoyed by his paintings The Angelus and The Gleaners after his death.
• Le Nez de JobourgThis is the name given to the highest cliffs in mainland Europe. In the village, don't miss the beautiful 12th century church with a bell tower typical of the region. In a letter Millet spoke of his regret at not having painted this church "whose appearance transports us back to the past and convinces us that history took place here."
• VauvilleAfter the rugged scenery around La Hague, Vauville bay is a haven of tranquillity, just like the magnificent botanic gardens which surround the château. Despite the peaceful appearance of Vauville priory, the building is the subject of many fantastic tales and legends which fascinated Millet.
• Château de Vauville botanic gardensFacing the sea, this botanical jewel is home to more than 900 evergreen species, many of which come from the southern hemisphere.
Corot has left us with two fine views of Saint-Lô (the main town or préfecture of the Manche département), which were painted 24 years apart.
• Musée des Beaux-ArtsSaint-Lô's modern and spacious museum houses a small but interesting collection of 19th century art. Don't miss the two works by Corot, The Pond and Homer and the Shepherds, a historical work much admired by Baudelaire and given to the museum by Corot himself. Other major works on display here include a Nude Man, one of Millet's early works; a River Landscape by Rousseau; and Le Havre: Sunset at Low Tide by Boudin, an unusually large canvas for this artist who normally produced much smaller paintings.As part of the Normandy Impressionist Festival, the Musée des Beaux-Arts will host the "In the footsteps of Corot in Normandy" exhibition.
Saint-Vaast-la-HougueFrom a small fishing village, Saint-Vaast gradually developed into a popular seaside resort. Summer holiday-makers were attracted here by the mild microclimate, which allowed fuchsias, mimosas and palm trees to grow, and by the delicious oysters produced in the area. Artists, for their part, came here for the transparent qualities of the light, the ever-changing skies and the picturesque location of the village. Boudin was fascinated by clouds, which he would follow from the harbour quayside as far as the Cul-de-Loup cove.
• Musée Paul-José-GosselinPaul-José-Gosselin opened this museum under his studio to exhibit his works of art. This committed artist depicted the region's light in a style which owed much to Impressionism, but his particular skill lay in depicting historical events through enormous frescoes which were flamboyant, lyrical, amusing and sometimes even violent.
Considered to be the most beautiful port on the English Channel, Barfleur is nicknamed the "Pearl of the Saire Valley". There is so much here to captivate painters: the beautiful location, dominated by Saint-Nicholas church; the bustling harbour, which is especially lively when the fishermen return to port with their catch of mussels (including the famous "Blondes de Barfleur"); fascinating historical buildings, such as the Couvent des Augustins and the Hôtel Le Conquérant; and the vast fine sandy beaches of the surrounding region. Signac drew The Lighthouse of Gatteville here, a sketch which can be admired at the Musée de Cherbourg. Other painters who visited the region include the American Boggs, Valtat from Dieppe and Moteley from Caen. The coast road to Cherbourg from Gatteville boasts some superb views. Don't miss Cap Lévi, with its lighthouse overlooking the sea, and the turquoise waters of the Anse du Brick (Brick cove). • La Galerie Drak’arts This art gallery exhibits numerous Impressionist-style paintings by local artists.
Contacts and useful links
Most of these websites are available in English. Once on these website, please click on your country flag.Cherbourg-Octeville Tourist OfficeTel : 0033 233 93 52 02Site internet : www.otcherbourgcotentin.frLa Hague Tourist OfficeTel : 0033 233 52 74 94Site internet : www.lahague.org
Birthplace of Jean-François Millet (Maison natale de Jean-François Millet) Site internet www.greville-hague.fr
For more information on Tatihou, log onto the Conseil Général de la Manche website
Click here for the Normandy Impressionist Festival programme.
Festival highlights include the "Millet, at the dawn of Impressionism" exhibition at the Musée Thomas-Henry in Cherbourg-Octeville and the "Maxence Rifflet – Cherbourg via the coast" exhibition at the Point du Jour, also in Cherbourg-Octeville.The Musée des Beaux-Arts in Saint-Lô will host the "In the footsteps of Corot in Normandy" exhibition.