Normandy Celebrates Impressionist Movement

Normandy is considered the birthplace of the 19th century impressionist movement. And from now through the summer, French cities and towns across the region are celebrating the impressionists in a series of activities including art exhibits and concerts.

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For lovers of Impressionistic art, this is the moment to visit the French region of Normandy. Normandy is considered the birthplace of the 19th century Impressionistic movement. And from now through the summer, cities and towns across the region are celebrating the work in a series of exhibits and concerts. Eleanor Beardsley sends us this report.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: The Impressionists were influenced by two great changes in 19th century life: industrialization and a new concept called leisure time. They rejected realism and conventional tastes of the day, trying instead to capture ephemeral moments through the use of light, shape and color. Jacques-Sylvain Klein is in charge of this summer's Impressionist festival in Normandy.

Mr. JACQUES-SYLVAIN KLEIN (Writer): (Through translator) The Impressionist movement actually started in the mid-1800s, when for the first time people bathed in the sea because it was thought to be therapeutic, so all the aristocrats and the bourgeois classes flocked to the Norman coast.

(Soundbite of gulls)

BEARDSLEY: Klein says the Impressionists followed them, drawn to the water, the light and the miles of sandy beaches and cliff views. Claude Monet and Gustave Courbet painted the cliffs at Etretat; Eugene Boudin the beaches of Trouville. Monet's painting, titled "Impression Sunrise," of a fiery ball rising over the gray port of Le Havre, was called wallpaper by critics of the day. But it would give the renegade movement its name. Unlike their predecessors, the Impressionists embraced modernity, painting the locomotives, train stations and smokestacks that sprung up with the Industrial Revolution.

(Soundbite of train)

BEARDSLEY: For the first time, people could take the train and get out of the city, just as modern Parisians do today. Art historian and tour guide Pamela Grant is waiting for her train to Normandy. Grant says the Impressionists left Paris to live and paint along the banks of the Seine River as it meandered towards Normandy.

Ms. PAMELA GRANT (Art Historian): When you follow the Impressionist movement, you can actually follow them along the Seine because they make stops all the way along the Seine. And they're painting people out enjoying themselves.

(Soundbite of music)

BEARDSLEY: The new concept of leisure time eventually spread to the working classes. The Impressionists memorialized the guinguettes, those popular dancing restaurants along the Seine and Marne Rivers where people listened to the songs of Aristine Bruon(ph)and wore their Sunday best to go boating. Pierre-Auguste Renoir painted the "Luncheon of the Boating Party" at a guinguette along the Seine. Near a turn in the river, about 50 miles from Paris and heading towards Normandy, lies the tiny town of Giverny. Giverny was forever linked to the Impressionists after Monet moved there in 1883.

Mr. DIEGO CANDIL (Curator, Giverny Museum): When he decided to live here, he stayed until the end of his life and his presence bring other artists just to come to the village to discover the area, to discover the landscapes.

BEARDSLEY: That's Diego Candil, curator of the Giverny Museum's newest exhibit, "Impressionism on the Seine." Candil says many of the artists who followed Monet were American.

Mr. CANDIL: And we called Giverny an American colony, because from 1887 through the First World War there were more than 250 American artists coming to Giverny.

BEARDSLEY: Candil says those artists created their own ambience in the village and all along the Seine. This summer, in an attempt to recreate the world of the Impressionists, Giverny will throw giant picnics on the riverbank and Parisians will come dance at a rebuilt guinguette alongside the Seine. For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

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