Art in France
Must see art for art lovers
With its endless variety of landscapes, vast spaces and a special light in certain regions, it is no wonder France has always been fertile ground for artists through the ages.
Wherever your Belle France holiday takes you, there will always be a chance to enjoy art in some form. You may even find yourself walking or cycling through a scene from a famous painting.
This iconic location north west of Paris was home to Monet, one of the driving forces behind Impressionism. Coastal towns like Honfleur, Le Havre, Dieppe and Deauville provided inspiration for the new Impressionist techniques and were a magnet for the likes of Pissaro, Boudin and Renoir. Rouen’s Musée des Beaux-Arts is a chance to view magnificent paintings close to their inspiration.
The gardens at Giverny retain the famous lily ponds, the Japanese bridge and plantings, while the house is frozen in time, redolent of life in Monet’s time.
Tip: arrive early to avoid the tourist coaches coming from Paris.
One painter more than any is associated with Provence: Van Gogh. The city of Arles was his base for several turbulent years, along with his friend Gauguin. Here you can follow a trail on foot which links a number of sites painted by Van Gogh and where reproduction paintings have been helpfully set up in the exact place that he painted from. Inspirational stuff.
Down near the Spanish border in the Languedoc, Collioure was essentially a fishing village of the Mediterranean cliché-sur-mer variety. Charming enough but now globally famous for its association with a string of artists, drawn by the special light and the beguiling Catalan features around the harbour. The roll call is impressive: Picasso, Matisse, Dufy, Dali and Chagall are just a few to have sauntered along beside the fishing boats and daubed some paintings to earn their crust.
The creative spirit of the Renaissance gave rise to vast quantities of new art, fuelled by the French invasion of Italy and the wealthy trade connections of the Burgundy court. The innumerable magnificent châteaux of the Loire Valley were the most impressive expression of this new wave of art and many contain, to this day, sensational artworks of global importance.
World famous for its shimmering seas, palm trees, elegant promenades and scintillating light, the Côte d’Azur was the destination for Renoir, Picassso, Matisse, Chagall, Cocteau, Miro and others when they packed their brushes, oils and Factor 20 and headed off for some sun.
Nice offers the Musée des Beaux-Arts, the Musée Matisse and the Musée Marc Chagall. Not far away, museums in Antibes, Cagnes-sur-Mer, St Tropez and Villefranche offer works by Picasso, Renoir, Matisse and Cocteau respectively. Truly an embarrassment of choice….
For many this seaside region is synonymous with artists like Picasso, who spent time painting in Dinard, Monet and a number of Impressionists. Excellent galleries are found at St Malo, Morlaix and Vannes. The Belle France holiday Prestige Emerald Coast Cycling gives you a chance to experience some of these.
The quiet, unassuming town of Pont-Aven in southern Brittany near Concarneau is home to the ‘Pont Aven School’, popular in the late 19th century and championed by Gauguin. The Musée des Beaux Arts here has a small collection of Gauguin works.
In the south west Albi is an attractive, small city, renowned for the reddish hand-made bricks with which many buildings were built. The Musée Toulouse-Lautrec has more than 1,000 works by the celebrated artist, from his early paintings to his later poster art.
Quite clearly, Paris is one of the world epicentres for great art. The Louvre is perhaps the one that springs to mind, probably because of the presence of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (correctly titled La Jocande). But it’s a vast, vast museum with 15,000 visitors daily and 380,000 artworks – only one of which is the Mona Lisa.
As you shuffle along, past the Venus de Milo, the Rembrandts and Michelangelos, waiting your turn to see the surprisingly tiny Mona Lisa, you might wonder what the alternatives are.
Well here goes….
Housed, sensationally, in the old railway station and complete with original station clock, this is accessible with enough variety to keep you fresh and engaged. Among others you’ll find works by Manet, Cézanne, Renoir, Monet, Pissaro and Degas. A less well known gem is Detaille’s ‘Le Rêve’, a huge painting conjuring the ghostly dreams of the sleeping soldiers the night before battle.
Tip: ticket prices reduce at the end of the afternoon, and you can save with a double ticket that includes entry to the Musée Rodin.
In the Marais district, the motherlode for Picasso fans has been described as a ‘fast forward journey through an oeuvre that is like a history of the 20th century’.
Popular for the two iconic sculptures by Rodin, The Thinker and The Kiss, this is an elegant building in its own right.
The highlight here is two large oval rooms, each hung with four large works from the Water Lilies cycle, as per the instructions of Monet himself. Sit on a bench in the centre and you get a feeling of being totally immersed in the famous garden.
Tip: Find the Louvre over-blown and want an out-of-town alternative? North of Paris in Lens, in the Nord-Pas de Calais region, the Louvre-Lens is designed as an edgier counterpoint to its illustrious, palatial sister.
Wild card: Lascaux II
Definitely not modern art, nor even medieval or Renaissance art. Situated near Montignac in the Dordogne it was discovered by boys looking for a lost dog. Its chambers contain astounding pre-historic paintings, dating from 15,000 BC and likened by some to the Sistine Chapel in importance. The original Grotte de Lascaux is closed to the public (condensation was proving the enemy of art) but the replica, Lascaux II, is a huge draw and breathtaking in its accuracy.