The picturesque Oise region of northern France has long been a source of inspiration for artists. Its stunning landscapes, quaint villages and peaceful rivers have attracted painters from different schools of thought, but it is perhaps best known for its association with the Impressionist movement. The Oise was home to some of history's most famous artists, including Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro and Charles-François Daubigny. If you want to embark on a journey in the footsteps of the French Impressionists through the Oise region and discover their artistic legacy, enjoy this article!
Impressionism in France
The history of an artistic movement
Impressionism was born in 1873 thanks to Claude Monet’s work: Impressions, soleil levant. This work embodies the beauty of speed and blur that characterizes Impressionism. However, art historian Richard Brettell has emphasized the plurality of Impressionism: some works are certainly Impressionist, such as Monet's canvases (a rapid, performative painting), but most of the artists (like Renoir, Pissaro, Morisot, Degas or Caillebotte for example) and the canvases associated with this movement are often depicting scenes from for a realistic point of view, for instance outdoor subjects borrowed from modern life such as crowds.
Impressionism was as much an aesthetic as it was a movement. Aesthetically, it celebrates modernity and nature, vivid colours and quick notations. Sociologically, it refers to a group of artists who exhibited outside the official salons between 1874 and 1886. This group includes famous painters such as Monet, Degas, Renoir, Pissarro, Cassatt, Morisot, and Caillebotte. The first exhibition of this group took place in Paris in 1874 in a photography workshop. Critics shoot down the work that they perceived as scribbles, hence the term impressionism. Even if the group dissolved in 1886, impressionism did not disappear. On the contrary, it was reborn with the neo-impressionists. Monet expanded his collections, and Renoir appropriated the genre of classical portrait…
The Impressionist technique
Impressionist painting techniques can be considered revolutionary as it marks the beginning of what might be considered to be modern painting. Indeed, the axioms are reversed: the classic perfection and sharpness are replaced by the impressionist blurring and fugacity. While the accepted artistic movements at the time were realistic and presented invisible brushstrokes, the Impressionists aimed to capture a scene’s momentary and fleeting impact by observation, especially the effect of light. That is why they left the studio and began to paint outdoors. When posted outside, they had less time to mix colours, so they needed to paint quickly to capture the changes caused by light and life. The result was a spontaneous brushstroke work that seemed unfinished or disjointed compared to the accepted work of the time. Basically, you can see and feel the hand of an Impressionist artist and his inspiration on his canvas. Therefore, the impressionist brushstroke had to be abrupt to capture reality in its vibrating self. This is why the brushstrokes of this genre are often short and thick: their goal is to capture the subject’s essence and not its details. The painting then revives the subject in its spontaneity and its movement with pure and luminous colours.
A concept of beauty
One could say that according to impressionism, beauty is found in fluidity. First of all, we can associate fluidity with elements of nature such as water, air or light like it is ideal for Claude Monet’s series the Nymphéas. or in its innumerable representations of rivers and oceans such as the Seine, Oise and Manche. On the other hand, we find the impressionist aesthetic of fluidity in representing objects of modern life, such as passers-by or horses. These elements then literally blend into their environment thanks to the techniques of impressionist painters. One could therefore interpret that the blur leads to perfect harmony, to create an idealized representation of a chaotic world and thus to establish a new form of beauty, as a prism to see the world. An exhibition on the theme of impressionism at the Musée d'Orsay in 2012 went so far as to portray this genre as chic and sensual, particularly in its representation of the women to whom it offered an unprecedented voluptuousness.
Claude Monet in Giverny
Claude Monet was a key figure in the Impressionist movement. One may say that he transformed French painting in the 19th century. Throughout his life, Monet never stopped to paint the landscapes and leisure activities of the Parisian region and the coast of Normandie (it is in Normandie that he started painting outside). He developed a distinctive style designed to capture nature on canvas, paving the way for 20th-century modernism. However, it is the little French village of Giverny that inspired him the most that Claude Monet lived and painted for over 40 years. The famous water lily ponds, Japanese bridges and dreamy ponds in Monet's garden became the subjects of some of his most iconic masterpieces. Visitors of the Fondation Monet can wander through the vibrant flowerbeds and experience the very scenes that inspired Monet's Water Lilies series. Giverny's beauty and tranquillity make it a charming village and undoubtedly continue to captivate artists and nature enthusiasts.
Van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise
Although he did not consider himself an Impressionist, Vincent van Gogh was deeply influenced by the movement considering his brushstrokes. Hence he is considered a post-Impressionist. He spent the final months of his life in the charming French village of Auvers-sur-Oise where the picturesque local features nurtured several of his works. The village's church and fields inspired L’Eglise d’Auvers-sur-Oise, a poignant representation of the village's Romanesque church. We can also cite his famous auto-portrait. His paintings were known often to give a hypnotic blur effect, like an illusion, that some cling to impressionist influence and others to his madness. Although he did not achieve success during his life, he gained critical recognition after his death. Some of his paintings were among the most expensive ever sold. If you have the chance to visit Auvers-sur-Oise today, you will be able to feel the creative aura typical of the region that inspired Van Gogh during his short but intense time there.
The sources of their inspiration
The Enchanting Oise River Valley
Beyond the towns and villages, the Oise River Valley itself stands as a breathtaking panorama of inspiration for artists. The valley embodies the essence of the Impressionist blurry and luminous aesthetic. Its gently rolling hills, meandering waterways, and charming hamlets make it an incredible region to tour. Indeed, the Oise River flows throughout the region, creating marvellous landscapes that encouraged artists to experiment with light and colour in order to spontaneously capture this cradle of beauty and ultimately shape the revolutionary style of Impressionism.
Pontoise, The cradle of Impressionism
Pontoise is one of the major cities in the Parisian region. However, it has not lost its charm with its old-warm cobbled streets and enchanting Oise quays. This city played a significant role in the development of Impressionism. Located near Auvers-sur-Oise, some of Van Gogh’s paintings resemble Pontoise. Nevertheless, Camille Pissarro, one of the founding fathers of the movement, lived in this town and focused on immortalizing its landscapes in numerous paintings. Le Pont du chemin de fer, a bridge that spans the Oise River, became one of Pissarro's favourite motifs. Art enthusiasts can explore the picturesque views that graced his canvases in the exact spots where the artist set up his easel. If you wish to discover this city, it is directly linked to Paris by train in less than an hour.
Chantilly, An Inspiring Elegance
The royal city of Chantilly is not only renowned for its delicious rème Chantilly. It houses a prestigious art museum, the Musée Condé, within the Château de Chantilly. Visitors can admire the display of an exquisite collection of masterpieces, including works by Delacroix, Raphael and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, an influential precursor to the Impressionist movement. If you are in Paris, we recommend you take the train to Chantilly to explore one of France’s most beautiful castles and gardens, which were important sources of inspiration for many artists. Who knows, maybe you will find inspiration too, roaming the museum…
Compiègne is a city of great historical significance and is also closely linked to the art world. It was one of the favourite destinations of the landscape painter and pioneer of Impressionism, Charles-François Daubigny. Daubigny's innovative approach to capturing the fleeting emotions of nature had a major influence on the younger Impressionists who followed in his footsteps. If you go to the Parisian region, you should also visit Compiègne, a city that allowed art lovers to immerse themselves in creating works that contributed to Impressionism.
Where to enjoy impressionism nowadays?
Most French art museums contain pieces of Impressionism art, as this movement is dear to French culture. The worldwide recognition of French museums is not up to debate as they are part of the French Art de Vivre and a sanctuary for all art lovers who want to delve deeper into the world of Impressionism. If you are one of them, French museums have you covered. The iconic Musée d'Orsay in Paris displays famous works by masters such as Claude Monet, Edgar Degas and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and the Musée de l'Orangerie showcases Monet’s Fascinating Water Lilies Collection. Visitors can come for an unparalleled journey in those museums through luminous landscapes.
Claude Monet’s house
If you really want to immerse yourself in an artist’s life, The Fondation Monet is the perfect place. If you go to Giverny, you can wander through his beautiful gardens, ponds and admire the trees and flowers that inspired him. There, you can also visit his charming and colourful mansion and a museum specially dedicated to Impressionists’ works. You can find an extensive collection of Monet’s masterpieces in this museum. Indeed, the Impressionist Museum in Giverny offers a unique opportunity to admire Impressionism and its magic. There, you can gain a greater understanding and appreciation for an art that continues to inspire generations. Hence, Giverny is the city you should go to if you want to grasp what Impressionism is about. Moreover, the city is part of the Oise Valley, so once there, you are free to enjoy all the enchanting and authentic villages nearby that contributed to creating the Impressionist movement! If this perspective appears as exciting to you, book your trip to travel through the Oise.
The Oise river and valley are definitely a treasure trove of artistic heritage and a place of pilgrimage for art lovers. Nowadays, you can still enjoy the amazing landscapes that inspired the French Impressionists. Their allure and charm can still transport visitors back to a time when these painters were inventing Impressionism and breaking from the tradition to redefine the scope of artistic beauty. Therefore, if you are interested in art, France is probably one of the greatest countries to enjoy it and to retrace the footsteps of the Impressionists in L'Oise through an unforgettable journey exploring art and nature. From Monet's magical gardens in Giverny to the serene beauty of the Oise River, France’s beauty is definitely a muse that you should experience. Whether you are an art passionate or simply seeking an enchanting getaway near Paris, l'Oise promises a unique experience. And if you wish to see more about what France has to offer, follow Best of France facebook page.