Étretat, Fécamp and the Côte d'Albâtre
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.
Étretat, Fécamp and the Côte d’Albâtre
Huddled against its tall white chalk cliffs, the port of Étretat was difficult to reach until the mid 19th century. Its isolation made it popular with landscape painters looking for unspoilt landscapes. Isabey was the first painter to discover this picturesque spot in the 1820s.
Monet spent the whole winter of 1868 in Étretat, painting Stormy Sea at Étretat and The Magpie, a superb depiction of a snowy landscape. At the same time, his friend Courbet painted his famous series of waves, a motif which was studied on its own for the first time. Maupassant, who watched both artists work on this subject matter, passionately defended "all those who pursue a truth which has previously been unnoticed".
During the 1880s, Monet returned often to Étretat, staying at the Hôtel Blanquet, from where he painted a number of his masterpieces. Caillebotte painted Father Magloire on the road to Étretat here and Boudin, at the end of his life, produced a series of works with wonderful light effects.
Things to see and do in Étretat
• Downstream: the cliff and the Porte d'Aval, the Aiguille and the ManneporteThese three natural sculptures were made famous by Monet and Courbet who painted them. From the top of the Aval cliff, which overlooks the beach, there are superb views of the Porte d’Amont, which "extends a giant leg into the sea" (Maupassant), and of the Aiguille, which Leblanc claimed – incorrectly – was hollow.Aval cliff: the top of the cliff (85m) is reached via a footpath, then a flight of steps, situated to the left of the sea wall. This superb cliff is crossed by a public footpath, the GR21, which runs from Le Havre to Tréport. The huge expanse around the path is occupied by a golf course with views of the sea. The Porte d’Aval: this arch is one of Étretat's iconic sights and is considered to be one of the world's natural marvels. The Aiguille (needle): sculpted like an obelisk by the sea and the wind, the Aiguille is 70m high. The Manneporte: this imposing arch was another of Claude Monet's favourite motifs.
• Upstream: the cliff and the Porte d’AmontAmont cliff: a cross and a charming small chapel stand on the top of this cliff, which boasts romantic views of the town, the Aval cliff, the Arch and the Aiguille.
• The beachThe beach is shared by summer holiday-makers, fishermen and locals, as can be seen in the paintings Fishermen on the Beach and Washerwomen on the Beach of Étretat by Boudin. Strolling along the Perrey (as the seafront is called in the local dialect), you'll also be able to admire some of Claude Monet's paintings of Étretat thanks to the panels which provide information on the painter.
• The villasMany of the villas in and around Étretat date from the late 19th century and the Belle Époque period. The best known include the Villa Orphée, built by Offenbach; the Clos Arsène Lupin, once the home of Maurice Leblanc; and the Villa La Guillette, built by Guy de Maupassant and situated on the street named after this writer.
•Yport Alfred Nunès, mayor of Yport from 1886 to 1893, was a contemporary art enthusiast who was particularly fond of landscapes. In 1883, he commissioned Renoir to paint a portrait of his son, which resulted in the splendid Young Boy on the Beach of Yport. Several years later, Schuffenecker, an artist at the vanguard of Post-Impressionism, along with Gauguin, Seurat and Anquetin, demonstrated a striking modern style in his Rocks at Yport.
•Fécamp As early as 1832 Fécamp was one of the first seaside resorts to build a bathhouse and casino. Journalists, politicians, aristocrats and other high-society visitors came here in the summer months, followed by large number of painters, especially those interested in seascapes.
•Palais BénédictineIn addition to boasting an unusual architectural style, the Palais Bénédictine houses three interesting sights: a distillery which makes the famous Benedictine liqueur, a collection of religious objets d'art dating from the 15th and 16th centuries, and a contemporary art gallery.
•The portJulie Manet once described the year in which her father, Eugène Manet, and her mother, Berthe Morisot, sat side by side and painted, in Impressionist style, their works Boat Building: "By the end of the year, they were engaged" she said, with an amused smile.
•The cliffsThe whole Manet family stayed at Fécamp. Degas came to join them and painted his Portrait of Eugène Manet at Fécamp, with the sea in the background. In the 1880s, Monet boldly began to depict the grandiose cliffs on canvas. Staying in the port at a fishermen's inn, he completed 16 different views of the cliffs. Painted at different hours of the day and in all sorts of weather, these works prefigure his future series paintings at Giverny.
•Notre-Dame-de-Salut chapel and the view of Cap FagnetThis chapel was built in the 11th century by Robert the Magnificent. On the walls, note the series of votive paintings, which include numerous works by Eugène Grandin.
•Musée des Terre-neuvas et de la PêcheDon't miss this seafront museum which traces the history of Fécamp and its surrounding area. Alongside fascinating collections dedicated to the town's maritime history, the museum presents an interesting collection of paintings by artists who worked in the area, including Le Poittevin, Diéterle, Laurens and Prins.
•Les Petites-Dalles Claude Monet's older brother Léon owned a villa in this peaceful valley. His younger brother often came to visit and painted a number of seascapes here. These paintings were so successful that the art dealer Durand-Ruel signed a contract promising to buy all of the artist's works. In six years, Monet painted no fewer than 150 canvases of the Normandy coast!
•ValmontSince his childhood, Delacroix spent many holidays at the Château de Valmont with his cousin Riesener. Delacroix made many sketches of the old church and its Chapelle de la Vierge, for which he designed the stained glass of the rose window. Abbaye de Valmont: this site was bought by Delacroix's cousins in 1830. The artist painted several canvases and watercolours here.
•Saint-Valery-en-CauxIn 1823, Bonington began work on a magnificent painting, Boats Near Shore of Normandy, in which his use of light and delicate colours heralds the style of the Pre-Impressionists, forty years before them. Jongkind discovered Saint-Valery-en-Caux with his master Isabey in 1845.
•Château de Mesnil-GeoffroyThis 18th-century château, which has hosted Victor Hugo and Saint-Exupéry, once belonged to the Prince de Montmorency. The chateau park is home to the largest private rose garden in Normandy and was painted by Colinet.
Contacts and useful links
Most of these websites are available in English. Once on these website, please click on your country flag.Etretat Tourist OfficeTel : 0033 235 27 05 21 Website : www.etretat.net
Fécamp Tourist OfficeTel : 0033 235 28 51 01Website : www.fecamptourisme.com
Saint-Valery-en-Caux Tourist OfficeTel : 0033 235 97 00 63Website : www.cauxmaritime.com
Click here for the Normandy Impressionist Festival programme.