Last spring in the Paris Metro, I paused to admire a colorful advertisement for the Impressionist Normandy Festival, a celebration of the region's role in the Impressionist painting movement.
My brother Davey, an art history major at Connecticut College, was contemplating an ad for detergent. "Hey, bro!" I called. "Check this out."
Whenever I see Impressionist paintings at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, the airy brushstrokes transport me to the late 19th century French villages. So I was intrigued to learn that until late September, the festival will celebrate Impressionist painters and their favorite muses: the Seine Valley, the medieval city of Rouen and seaside towns along France's northern coastline.
Impressionist Normandy presents linked museum exhibitions, concerts, outdoor balls and thematic "Impressionist Itineraries," or self-guided walking-driving tours. Over three days in June, I followed two of the itineraries highlighting two themes: "Gardens" and "The Moment."
Some of the gardens are in Giverny, a touristy town about 50 miles west of Paris and a former hotbed of Impressionist activity. Claude Monet lived in Giverny from 1883 until his death in 1926. After touring his house, Davey and I wandered through his backyard, where Monet composed some of his most iconic paintings. Walking among the artist's bamboo trees and azalea bushes, we followed a babbling brook until we reached his famous waterlily pond.
I had seen Monet's waterlily canvases at the Met in New York and the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris, so his pond seemed vaguely familiar, like a place you remember from childhood. The scene probably didn't look too much different, I realized, than it had in the 1880s. I marveled at how the painter's hand had magically evoked all those subtle ripples and reflections —
"A fish!" a little boy observed. "Did anyone see?"
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