Le Havre and the Seine Estuary

Le Havre and the Seine Estuary


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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.

Le Havre and the Seine Estuary

The idea of "modernity" comes naturally to Le Havre, a "new town" built by François I. By the 1820s, Le Havre was attracting Romantic painters such as Turner and Bonington who painted luminous watercolours here. The colours of the sea and sky inspired Géricault in his masterpiece "The Raft of the Medusa".  

During the 1840s and 1850s, famous painters such as Troyon, Isabey and Couture were exhibiting their work at the gallery of a picture framer by the name of Boudin, alongside aspiring artists such as Millet, Courbet and Jongkind. Converted to painting, Boudin acted as a kind of catalyst, improving the eye of the young Monet, forming an inseparable trio with Monet and Jongkind, and introducing Monet to Courbet. 
The International Maritime Exhibition of 1868 was a decisive event, opening its doors to painters of the "new school" and in some way compensating for the rejection of artists such as Manet, Monet, Courbet and Boudin by the Paris Salon. Monet went on to develop the techniques which were to make him the most important painter of the Impressionist movement. He painted the famous Terrace at Sainte-Adresse and, a few years later, Impression - Sunrise, which gave its name to the Impressionist movement. 
As a reaction to the academic teaching typical of the Fine Arts School, a "School of Le Havre" was formed, bringing together revolutionary painters such as Dufy, Friesz and Braque.

Le Havre

Le Havre largely owes its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site to the architect Perret, who oversaw the post-war reconstruction of the town. We might not share his love of concrete and straight avenues, but this fan of the "Modern movement" shared at least one characteristic with the Impressionists – a desire to make the best use of natural light.

• Musée Malraux

The present Musée des Beaux-Arts has little in common with the museum painted by Monet, which was destroyed by bombing in the war. Opened in 1961, and recently renovated to house the magnificent Senn-Foulds collection, the museum enjoys a superb location facing the sea and has a striking architectural style which is both light and transparent. It's difficult to imagine a better setting for works of art which aim to depict light and air. As a result of generous donations, all the major artistic trends of the 19th and 20th centuries are represented here: Romanticism (Géricault and Delacroix), Naturalism (Corot), Realism (Courbet and Millet) and Pre-Impressionism (Boudin, Jongkind and Lépine). The museum's Impressionist collection is the second largest in France, after that of the Musée d’Orsay, while the Post-Impressionism period is well represented by the Nabis and Fauves schools.
Start your visit with The Wave by Courbet, painted with a palette knife. Although he wasn't an Impressionist, Courbet became more and more interested in landscapes, especially Normandy landscapes. In this way he paved the way for the Impressionists, who took their easels outdoors and studied their subject matter close at hand.
As for Claude Monet, his family settled in Le Havre when he was five. His meeting with Eugène Boudin was a decisive one. Le Havre was the first town to buy some of the artist's paintings. On the ground floor of the museum, admire a square painting of Monet's Waterlilies. Other important works include Boats at Sea, Sunset by Manet, two views of the port at Le Havre by Pissarro and The Excursionist by Renoir.

More information on the Musée André Malraux

 As part of the Normandy Impressionist Festival, the Musée Malraux is holding two exhibitions – Works by Degas from the Senn collection and Signac, Ports of France.

• The port district
The lighthouse depicted in the painting Le Havre, Heavy Winds off Frascati by Boudin still stands at the entrance to the harbour, just in front of the Musée Malraux. In 1872, Monet painted his famous Impression - Sunrise from his bedroom window at the Hôtel de l’Amirauté. 

Around Le Havre

• Sainte-Adresse
Once an old fishing village, Sainte-Adresse became a fashionable seaside resort where Monet's father and aunt lived in a villa perched on a rocky spur overlooking the sea. Monet painted his two relatives from the first floor of the house, depicting them with their backs to the sea in his Terrace at Sainte-Adresse, one of his first Impressionist works. A few years later, The Jetty at Sainte-Adresse by Dufy marked an important milestone in the Fauves movement. 

• The Impressionist Promenade
Walking along the Promenade de la Plage, towards Le Havre, you will be following in the footsteps of many of the Impressionist painters. A number of panels here depict reproductions of works of art which stand on the very spot where they were painted.

• Harfleur
Numerous painters have fallen for the charms of this medieval village, with its narrow alleyways, half-timbered houses and river, the Lézarde. Artists to have visited here include Turner, the German Schirmer and the Dutch painter Jongkind.

• Tancarville
At the time when Turner was painting his Tancarville on the Seine, boating on this stretch of the river was highly dangerous. Overlooking the river, the Château de Tancarville, with its ruins covered in vegetation, adds a forbidding atmosphere to the scene.

Contacts and useful links

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

Le Havre Tourist Office
Tel : 0033 232 74 04 04
Website : www.lehavretourisme.com

Note: The Ville d’Art et d’Histoire (Town of Art and History) organisation runs Impressionist-themed visits and events throughout the year.

Harfleur Tourist Office
Tel : 0033 235 13 30 09
Website : www.harfleur.fr

Discover a whole host of information on the Seine-Maritime Tourist Board's website. Click here to view the Impressionist and Accommodation sections.

Click here for the Normandy Impressionist Festival programme.

Highlights of the Normandy Impressionist Festival include two exhibitions at the Musée Malraux: Works by Degas from the Senn collection and Signac, Ports of France

Things to see