Honfleur and the Côte de Grâce

Honfleur and the Côte de Grâce


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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.  

Honfleur and the Côte de Grâce

The port of Honfleur is probably the town in Normandy which has provided most inspiration for painters and which can most justifiably lay claim to the title "cradle of Impressionism". The town is brimming with picturesque sites just waiting to be painted, such as the Seine estuary, the quaysides and harbour, Sainte-Catherine church, the old streets, Notre-Dame chapel, the lighthouse and the shipyard.

From the 1820s onwards, Honfleur began to attract Romantic painters such as Turner, Bonington, Isabey, Huet and Mozin, followed by landscape artists from the Naturalist School. Situated in the upper town, the Auberge Saint-Siméon soon became a favourite meeting-place for these painters. Boudin encouraged many of his artist friends to visit Honfleur and for fifteen years organised artistic meetings at Saint-Siméon. In addition to the inseparable trio which Boudin formed with Jongkind and Monet, many other artists, such as Courbet, Daubigny, Bazille, etc, were drawn here, as well as musicians, poets and writers.
Just a stone's throw from here, Baudelaire, who had taken refuge at his mother's house, attempted to escape from the artificial paradise which haunted him and to continue with his writing of Les Fleurs du Mal. He paid a neighbourly visit to Boudin, who modestly showed him his "pastel skies". In his Salon de 1859, the poet declares his admiration for these "meteorological beauties".

"Honnefleu" continued to attract creative, innovative artists. The canvases painted by Braque in Honfleur are still typically Impressionist, while those by Seurat and Signac are more characteristic of the Pointillist style.

In the wake of these splendid works, a Honfleur "school" gradually formed, comprising local artists such as Marais, Voisard-Margerie and Leclerc. The town was also home to artists from other creative disciplines, such as the musician Satie, the humorist Allais and the poet Delarue-Mardus. Nicolas de Staël also fell under the town's spell and in his series of Honfleur paintings attempted to recreate the splendour of Boudin's skies.

Unlike Le Havre, which was almost completely destroyed in the Second World War, Honfleur was lucky enough to escape the bombings, which means that almost all the places painted by the 19th century artists have been preserved. An itinerary through the town (available from the tourist office) takes visitors to these different sights.

Few houses or alleyways in Honfleur have escaped the keen eye of painters and almost all of the town has been captured on canvas. An itinerary following in the footsteps of the Impressionist painters will take you to the Vieux-Bassin (old port), the church and Saint-Siméon farm.

     • Musée Eugène Boudin
This museum with fine views of the estuary stands in rue de l’Homme-de-bois, opposite the old house where Boudin once lived. Occupying the town hall, the museum originally owned just fifty works of art, but its collection was soon enriched by Boudin's legacy to his home town – 53 of the artist's own works and 17 works by his various friends. Since then, the museum's collection has continued to grow and it now offers an impressive introduction to artistic life in Honfleur in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Of all the different artistic movements on display here, it is the Pre-Impressionist school which is best represented with works by Boudin and his friends Courbet, Monet and Jongkind. The museum also houses works by the Nabis artist Valloton and the Fauves Dufy, Friesz, Marquet and Saint-Delis.

As part of the Normandy Impressionist Festival, the Musée Eugène Boudin presents the exhibition Honfleur, between Tradition and Modernity (1820-1900). At the same time, the "Painting in Normandy" collection will exhibit works by Monet, Courbet, Corot, Boudin, Cals, Louvrier, Pinchon, Rame, Delattre etc painted at Honfleur and Grand Quevilly.

  • Mont-Joli and the Côte de Grâce
Mont-Joli and the Côte de Grâce offer magnificent panoramic views of the town and river on one side, and the estuary as far as the sea on the other. Around 1829, Corot and his Italian friend Smargiarsi placed their easels here, side by side, in order to paint views of the estuary. 
Fishermen would once gather in Notre-Dame-de Grâce chapel on their return from fishing expeditions. Monet, Jongkind and his partner "Maman" Fesser all painted views of this chapel, either in oils or watercolours.

     • Auberge Saint-Siméon
Having said their prayers at the chapel, the fishermen would then head down to quench their thirst at Saint-Siméon farm. From 1855-1870, it was in this inn situated halfway up the hill that the artists' meetings took place which contributed so much to the birth of Impressionism. Baudelaire visited in 1859 and wrote his famous Invitation au voyage here. Monet painted many of his famous works here, including The Cart, Snow-Covered Road at Honfleur and Luncheon on the Grass (Déjeuner sur l’Herbe), which was started in Fontainebleau forest.
The inn is now a luxury hotel which has little in common with the modest thatched cottage depicted by Corot and Monet or the "convivial, informal atmosphere" so apparent in the paintings of Boudin. However, by using a little imagination over a drink at the hotel you can still see Courbet, Jongkind or Bazille sitting under the apple trees, enjoying a glass of cider and tucking into fresh mackerel with sorrel cooked for them by Mère Toutain.

     • The sea
Not as famous as its counterparts at Trouville and Deauville, the beach once attracted the high society of the Second Empire, who came here to spend the summer on the coast with their families.
Today the beach at Honfleur can be reached either by the coast road or the jetty. Le Butin beach lies 2km from the town centre,  while the quieter Vasouy beach is a little further away.

     • The Avant-port (outer harbour), Vieux-Bassin (old port), La Lieutenance, and Enclos quarter
The bustling activity of the outer harbour has always attracted painters. The Enclos district lies in the heart of Honfleur. Artists such as Turner, Monet, Boudin, Dubourg and Dufy have all painted the old Lieutenance (the king's lieutenant's building) and the slate-tiled buildings of the Quai Sainte-Catherine.
The salt warehouses, once used to store salt paid as tax, are now used as venues for exhibitions and concerts.
The Lieutenance is a striking building with corner turrets which stands on the quayside and overlooks the old harbour. Incorporating part of a 16th century castle, the building was once the residence of the king's lieutenant.
The old harbour is the most famous part of Honfleur. Built during the reign of Louis XIV on the order of Colbert, the harbour has retained much of its original atmosphere. It is lined by Quai Sainte-Catherine with its tall, narrow houses with projecting storeys. Some of these houses have seven storeys and just two windows on the façade.
Galerie Arthur Boudin: this legendary art gallery founded in 1898 is the oldest gallery in the Calvados. It exhibited work by Eugène Boudin during his lifetime and continues to exhibit paintings by local artists today, offering visitors the chance to follow in Boudin's footsteps and view contemporary art at the same time.

     • Saint-Léonard quarter
This is the district where Boudin was born in 1824. Also in this district, Isabey painted Saint-Léonard church, with its 18th century bell tower and elegant pointed doorway.

     • Sainte-Catherine quarter
The most picturesque part of Honfleur, this district lies around Sainte-Catherine church with its unusual wooden bell tower which has become an emblem of the town. Separated from the church in order to avoid weakening the structure, the bell tower was made famous by Monet, Boudin and Jongkind, and subsequently by Dufy and Friesz.
The old streets around the church also delighted Boudin, Dubourg and Jongkind. The rue des Lingots, one of the most typical of the old town, has retained its paving and most of its half-timbered houses.

     • Boat trips
Boat trips from Honfleur are a great way to experience the changing moods of the elements and the different colours of the sea and sky. One boat trip is organised around the theme of Impressionism.


During the 1850s, Corot recommended this region to Charles Daubigny who fell in love with this small coastal port situated below the coast road. 
Other artists to subsequently settle in Villerville included Vuillard, Roussel and Dufy.

     • Parc des Graves
This attractive shaded park at the side of the road into Villerville slopes down to the sea, providing a beautiful location in which to rest and relax in between artistic visits.

Contacts and useful links

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

Honfleur Tourist Office
Tel : 0033 231 89 23 30
Website : www.ot-honfleur.fr
Purchase a museum pass (9€/adult) to visit all four of the town's museums (available from the tourist office).

Villerville-sur-Mer Tourist Office
Tel : 0033 231 87 21 49
Website : www.villerville.fr

Discover a whole host of information on the Calvados Tourist Board's website. Click here to view the Accommodation and Ideas for Short Breaks sections.
Tel : 0033 231 27 90 30

Click here for the Normandy Impressionist Festival programme.

Festival highlights in Honfleur include the exhibition Honfleur, between Tradition and Modernity (1820-1900) at the Musée Eugène Boudin. At the same time, the "Painting in Normandy" collection will present works by Monet, Courbet, Corot, Boudin, Cals, Louvrier, Pinchon, Rame, Delattre etc painted in Honfleur and Grand Quevilly.

Things to see