Sunday, September 19, 2010

A picturesque time at the Impressionist Normandy Festival

 In the footsteps and on the canvases of Monet, Pissarro and provincial artists, past and present intertwine.


By Mike Ives Special to the Los Angeles Times

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 —

Splash! Plunk!

"A fish!" a little boy observed. "Did anyone see?"

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