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.
Nestling in a meander of the river, the capital of Normandy has always held a fascination for artists. The painter Pissarro was full of admiration for the city, which he declared "as beautiful as Venice".
It started with the Romantics. It was here that the painter Géricault from Rouen learnt all about the anatomy of horses, which feature so frequently in his work. His friend Delacroix immersed himself in the Gothic architecture of the town and the masterpieces housed in its museum. English painters also found creative inspiration here: Bonington painted the famous Rue du Gros-Horloge, creating a work which is considered to be the masterpiece of Romantic lithography, while Turner painted the superb watercolour Rouen Cathedral.
This new style of painting found a favourable environment in Rouen, with its wealthy, cultivated middle class, knowledgeable collectors, erudite art critics and avant-garde art gallery. The town's Salon of 1872 exhibited works by some of the best artists of what was not yet known as the Impressionist movement, such as Monet, Sisley and Pissarro.
The Impressionists often visited Rouen. Monet painted the port, yachts on the Seine and the working-class area which developed during the Industrial Revolution. It would, however, be another twenty years before the artist turned his attention to the cathedral. This extraordinary series of paintings led Cézanne to remark "Monet is the best painter of us all. I would hang his work in the Louvre."
From his hotel room overlooking the Seine, Pissarro painted views of the quaysides and bridges, exploring the effects of the rain and mist, and experimenting with watercolours and the Pointillist style. Gauguin spent nearly a year painting Impressionist canvases here. Sisley and Lebourg placed their easels on the banks of the Seine, near La Bouille and Sahurs. Influenced by these different masters, an artistic "School of Rouen" was formed which culminated in two legendary exhibitions: the first, held in 1907, brought together works by Fauvist artists such as Dufy, Matisse and Braque; the second, organised on the Ile Lacroix in 1912, was graced by Apollinaire who gave a lecture on "Orphic Cubism".
Things to see and do in Rouen •Musée des Beaux-ArtsThe Musée de Rouen was one of the first in the world to exhibit Impressionist works to the public. Its Impressionist rooms are the highlight of any visit here, with a collection featuring works by Degas, Renoir, Pissarro, Caillebotte, Dufy and others. However, all the 19th century schools are well represented, including Romanticism (Géricault and Delacroix), Naturalism (Corot and Huet), Pre-Impressionism (Jongkind, Boudin and Lépine) and the School of Rouen.
More information of the Musée des Beaux-ArtsWebsite www.rouen-musees.com As part of the Normandy Impressionist Festival, the Musée des Beaux-Arts will be hosting the long-awaited exhibition "A City for Impressionism: Monet, Pissarro and Gauguin in Rouen". One of the highlights of the festival, this exhibition will bring together an exceptional collection of paintings, including some important works which will be exhibited in France for the first time. Also, this summer, the ephemeral creations of the Nuits Impressionnistes – a combination of sound and light, modern technology and cultural heritage – will enhance the facades of the Museum of Fine Arts.
•Colline Sainte-Catherine and the Corniche de BonsecoursSainte-Catherine hill boasts views of the Seine, its bridges, the town huddled around its cathedral, the hills surrounding the city (which Flaubert compared to an amphitheatre) and the nearby Ile Lacroix. It was from this spot that, sixty years after Corot, Monet began his famous series of Rouen cathedral, painting his View of Rouen from the Côte Sainte-Catherine.
•Cathédrale Notre-Dame, emblem of RouenThe treasures housed in the cathedral, and in particular the magnificent stained-glass windows, remind visitors that in Rouen painting shares pride of place with other arts such as architecture, sculpture, ceramics and engraving. After Bonington, it was Monet who spent two seasons tackling this masterpiece of Gothic art. The Cathedrals of Rouen were painted for the most part from the first floor of a ladies' lingerie shop (now the tourist office). Monet worked on up to 14 canvases at a time, determined to capture each and every atmospheric detail. The final result is truly magnificent – 28 views of the façade in total. Clémenceau, a huge admirer and friend of Monet, described the artist's work as "the ultimate in perfection, not seen until now".
•Eating and painting like MonetAn introduction to Impressionist painting opposite Rouen Cathedral, on the spot where Monet set up his studio in 1892. No experience of painting or drawing is necessary. An artist will help each participant to learn the master's technique. Cookery classes are also available in which participants will follow recipes left by Claude Monet. Contact the tourist office for further information. •Gros-HorlogeThe lively rue du Gros-Horloge, celebrated in the lithograph by Bonington, has lost none of its old-world charm nor its busy commercial atmosphere. The road leads directly to the clock known as the Gros-Horloge, which was painted so many times by English watercolourists and artists from the Rouen School, and where you can visit the fascinating Musée du Temps, housed in the belfry. From the viewing platform, admire the 360° views of the rooftops of old Rouen, which so captivated Pissarro, and the many Gothic spires which have made this "city of a hundred bell towers" (Victor Hugo) so famous.
•Palais de JusticeThe painting by Lemaître completely captures the atmosphere of the Law Courts' magnificent Renaissance courtyard, once busy with lawyers, one of whom was the famous playwright Corneille. The splendid Salle des Procureurs painted by Bonington served as a backdrop for the Amende Honorable by Delacroix. In 1976 the remains of the Maison Sublime, the oldest Jewish monument in France and the only medieval Rabbinical school to have been excavated in the world, were found under the main courtyard of the Palais de Justice.
•Saint-Maclou districtAnother artist of the Rouen School, Segers, painted Saint-Maclou church, a jewel of Gothic architecture, and the unusual cemetery known as the Aître Saint-Maclou. The Robec stream still runs through the middle of the picturesque rue Eau-de-Robec, a popular subject with artists, including Monet and Lebourg.
•The port, quays and bridgesThe promenade along the quayside allows visitors to enjoy some of the best-loved views painted by different artists over the years, including Bonington and Turner, Corot and Garneray, Jongkind and Lépine, and Monet and Guillaumin. However, the painter best known for his portrayal of these landscapes is undoubtedly Pissarro. His series of paintings of the port of Rouen, which includes at least fifty works, deserves to be as well known as Monet's paintings of Rouen Cathedral.
Contact and useful links
Most of these websites are available in English. Once on these website, please click on your country flag.Rouen Vallée de Seine Tourist OfficeTel : 0033 232 08 32 40Website : www.rouentourisme.com Rouen is one of the world capitals of Impressionism and is an official "Ville d’art et d’histoire" (Town of Art and History). An Impressionist itinerary is available from the tourist office.
Click here for the Normandy Impressionist Festival programme.
Rouen highlights:• The long-awaited exhibition in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, "A City for Impressionism: Monet, Pissarro and Gauguin in Rouen"• Illuminations of Rouen Musée des Beaux-Arts• Impressionist Programme/Music and Dance at the Opéra de Rouen