The draw of Europe for many artists over the centuries has been the variety of landscapes available to capture on canvas. From the lush green rolling hills of the countryside to the rocky mountains cloaked in a cerulean blue sky to the grey clusters of buildings along a bustling riverside – there’s something to challenge the creative eye of any painter.
Here we explore the different places famous artists have found inspiration. In this collection we see artists who have visited a neighboring city or country, those who came for one-off trips, and others who never left.
Vincent van Gogh
Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh was born in Zundert, Netherlands. He came to France first in 1875 when he was just 22. The artist spent years on and off living in France, and this time is some of the most pivotal in relation to his career. One of his most significant moves was in 1888, when he migrated from Paris to Arles in the Provence region of southern France. Though the artist had been part of a lively artist community in France’s capital for just two years, van Gogh wanted an escape. He ended up in Arles and set up a studio on his own, which is still known as the Yellow House.
Van Gogh was drawn to the south of France to find the sun and it was there that he produced his best and most famous works including many of his still life sunflower paintings and Café Terrace at Night (below). The artist spent just a year in Arles and after spending time voluntarily in a psychiatric hospital in Saint-Rémy de Provence, he eventually returned north to Auvers-sur-Oise, a suburb of Paris.
Port Lligat is a small village located in a bay on the Costa Brava. In 1930, Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí decided to called the place home and for the next 40 years turned a fisherman's hut into a home. Having been born in Figueres in Catalonia and growing up in Cadaqués, Dali was drawn to Port Lligat for the landscape, light and isolation he felt he needed to create work.
The artist once said of the area: “Port Lligat is the place of production, the ideal place for my work. Everything fits to make it so: time goes more slowly and each hour has its proper dimension. There is a geological peacefulness: it is a unique planetary case". Whether it was painting or sculpting, Dalí often worked outdoors, so he could make the most of the view.
Born in Antwerp, Alexander Keirincx was trained as a Flemish Baroque painter who ultimately ended up living most of his life in Amsterdam. But it was a stint in England that makes this artist more significant in British art history than many people realize. Keirincx was commissioned by King Charles I to create ten landscape paintings, mainly views of the king’s castles and houses in Northern England and Scotland from 1639 – 1640. It’s unknown why Keirincx was chosen specifically, but the move was one that was both politically motivated and to save face after Charles I's failed campaign against the Scottish.
The paintings display Keirincx's detailed aesthetic of topographical views combined with traditional techniques, and his ability to create warmth in the most bleak of scenes. While the full circumstances the artist was in England under remains unclear, what's certain is that he found solace in the stoic stone structures and landscapes he was asked to paint. His paintings were the first of what we would now call “house portraits” and became a well-established trend in painting in Britain in the later 17th century, all because of Keirincx’s commissioned works.
John Singer Sargent
Born to American parents in Florence, Italy, John Singer Sargent lived a nomadic existence for the majority of his life, traveling around Europe in search of new landscapes to paint for his own personal satisfaction. For 30 years during the 19th and 20th century Sargent was a highly sought after society painter, but he also produced hundreds of landscapes and figure studies not intended for public view. Venice provided the perfect backdrop for Sargent to lead this artistic double life as he found the city challenged him in ways other places hadn’t and he eventually thought of it as a kind of spiritual home.
From 1898 until 1913, the artist visited Venice at least once a year. Rather than focus on the hustle and bustle of the people on the streets, Sargent turned his eye to canal and architectural views, and almost left out human figures entirely from his works. During this period Sargent was able to hone his skills in portraying the glimmers of water but also work on his skills as a draughtsman creating architectural studies of Venice’s grand buildings and ornate facades.
Mary Stevenson Cassatt was an American painter and printmaker. Originally she was from Pennsylvania but was so determined to become an artist, she took her art education into her own hands and moved to Paris in 1866 age 22, with her mother and family friends acting as chaperones. Cassatt fell into the Impressionist crowd, which originated in France, and she turned her focus on painting the social and private lives of women, with particular emphasis on the intimate bonds between mothers and children. The Impressionist style, gave Cassatt freedom to paint scenes in plein air (painting outdoors), and she was drawn to crowded scenes peppered with quiet moments.
When she arrived in Paris, she soon befriended fellow artist Edgar Degas and it was through this connection that she became the only woman ever to exhibit with the other Impressionists. Cassatt enjoyed the hubbub of Paris and its suburbs so much, she remained in the city until her death in 1926, age 82.
Like Camille Pissarro and Charles-François Daubigny, Claude Monet moved to London during the Franco-Prussian War(1870-1). He arrived in winter and spoke no English, and found the entire experience miserable. Yet in spite of those cold months endured, the artist was drawn back to the English capital in 1899, 1900, 1901 and 1904, having become enchanted by London’s architecture and foggy skies.
He stayed at the Savoy Hotel and painted the city from the balconies and also turned his attention to some of London’s most iconic landmarks, like the series of works he painted of the Houses of Parliament. What Monet loved most was the changing nature of the weather in London, with “no one day anything like another” and found it more exciting to paint the distorted haze that engulfed the skyline rather than a clear, sunny day.
While Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga and started his artistic career off in Barcelona, it was the city of Paris, France that many say is where the artist came into his own. Picasso came to the French capital in 1900 and the city was already buzzing with modernist artists. He became fascinated by the work of Edgar Degas, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne.
Picasso’s style changed a lot during these years and it was heavily influenced by these artists, but his imagination was sparked by the city itself. Full of bohemian mischief and understated glamor, it was Paris’ buzzy streets and clusters of interesting people that Picasso couldn't help but paint. Picasso was so enamored with not just Paris, but France as a whole, and he eventually became rich enough to buy a chateau at the foot of Mont Sainte-Victoire. It was a view he boasted about as it had been immortalized numerous times on canvas by his hero Cézanne and when the artist died in 1973, he requested to be buried there.