Journey Across France with Monet

Claude Monet travelled the length and breath of France in search of subjects. But how does what he painted compare to what's seen today?

By Google Arts & Culture

Boulevard des Capucines (1873 - 1874) by Claude MonetThe Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Monet was a founding member of the Impressionists, who captured the world by painting the essence of light instead of objects themselves. Scroll on to see some of his famous French scenes, then step through the frame and use the arrows to explore them in Street View...

The Impressionists defined themselves as painters of the modern world. Claude Monet's scene of Paris' Boulevard des Capucines captures the blurred motion of carriages and pedestrians, seeing as much beauty in a bustling commercial street as in the greatest myths and histories.

Boulevard des Capuchines

The same street looks quite different today, where cars have replaced horse-drawn carriages, and gas lamps have given way to electric lights. But Monet would undoubtedly recognise the same urbane, excitable atmosphere of the city.

The Beach at Trouville (1870) by Claude MonetThe National Gallery, London

But everyone needs to escape the city, and the Impressionists were no different. The seaside town of Trouville became a particular favourite for those seeking to take part in the growing bourgeois fashion for visiting the beach, and Monet was there to capture them in paint.

Trouville

Trouville, and its neighbour Deauville, has retained its status as one of the most prestigious resorts in all of France. The marina today holds more yachts than trawlers, while the grand hotels and the beaches of the Côte Fleurie, 'Flowery Coast', are filled with tourists.

The Cliff, Étretat, Sunset (1882 - 1883) by Claude MonetNorth Carolina Museum of Art

Further along the coast is the town of Étretat. Smaller and less built-up than nearby Trouville, it was nonetheless a popular spot for day trippers. Eugène Boudin, Gustave Courbet, and Monet were all drawn here by the rugged chalk cliffs that run straight down into the sea.

Étretat

And people still visit today. Along the coast, the soft chalk has been eroded away to create a number of picturesque arches and stacks, such as the Porte d'Aval, as painted by Monet. The town is also famous for being the childhood home of the novelist Guy de Maupassant.

La maison du pêcheur, Varengeville (1882) by Claude MonetMuseum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Our last stop along the Normandy coast is Varengeville-sur-Mer, 8km west of Dieppe. The beach here is pebbled, and much less accessible than that of other popular tourist spots, but its isolation made it perfect for painters seeking the fresh air.

Varengeville

From the beach, the cliffs make an imposing sight. But these cliffs are actually crumbling away. The church of St. Valery, which incidentally holds the tomb of artist Georges Braque, now sits precariously on the cliff edge. If you want to visit, you'd better be quick.

Lavacourt under Snow (about 1878-81) by Claude MonetThe National Gallery, London

Winter scenes were popular with the Impressionists, as the white blanket of snow offered an opportunity to experiment with color effects. Look closely, and you'll see pink, blue, and hints of green, but barely any pure white.

Lavacourt

While Monet's painting is dated 1881, it was probably made during the unusually cold and snowy winter of 1879, a year after he moved to Lavacourt. This is the same street today, now named the Promenade Claude Monet in his honour.

The Japanese Footbridge (1899) by Claude MonetNational Gallery of Art, Washington DC

In April 1883, Monet was looking out of the window of a train when he spotted the village of Giverny in Eure. He soon moved there, set up a studio in a barn, and built himself a tranquil garden filled with ponds and water lilies.

Giverny

In 1980, the garden was restored to Monet's exacting standards, and since then has been open to the public. It was these water lilies and the reflective ponds that inspired the vision behind his monumental canvases held in the Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris.

Poplars on the Epte (1891) by Claude MonetScottish National Gallery

His house at Giverny lay at the confluence of the rivers Seine and Epte, and Monet often took boat trips to find places to paint. These poplar trees were a favourite subject of his, and in his hands the windswept leaves seem to merge seamlessly with the shimmering water itself.

Moulin des forges

Following the Epte, we find the Moulin des forges. This historic watermill is not far from Monet's house, and a sight he would have known. In his day it was still a working mill, grinding grain for bread. But since 1945, it's been run as a restaurant and hotel.

Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris

Our tour ends here, back in Paris, at the Musée de l'Orangerie, amidst what are undoubtedly Monet's masterpieces: his Water Lilies, donated to the nation as a celebration of the Armistice of 1919. Why not take a moment to relax amongst these magnificent monuments to peace.

Hitchcock Directing (1959) by Gjon MiliLIFE Photo Collection

In the mood for another art-guided tour? Discover Leonardo da Vinci's Florence.

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