I wanted to share a unique art-filled itinerary in France, which was also my very first river cruise experience…
Art inspirations on a Seine River Cruise
History, idyllic French meadows, and fantastic art come together in a river cruise down the River Seine, offering passengers an intimate voyage into the very beating heart of French culture and art.
For those looking to venture off the beaten path yet explore the sights and sounds of France, a river cruise is a perfect excursion. The Seine is the second-longest river in the country and meanders past many cultural and historical highlights, most notably Claude Monet’s garden and Auvers-sur-Oise.
The Seine was my very first river cruise, and it was a beautiful and stunning experience. Beyond the wonderful amenities and convenience of traveling on a river ship, the ports were captivating. On the history side, we visited the sites of Normandy and Rouen, while the ports related to the arts were a wonderful surprise. This is not about just viewing the art as much as seeing the original inspirations for the art. It’s fascinating to be present in that same scene, same location, and then to see the painting that the artist created using that locale to fuel their creativity.
Born in 1840, Claude Monet is considered the Father of Impressionism in most art circles. A genre named after the title of his painting “Impressions,” he, along with like-minded artists, ushered in a grand style of expression that would forever change the direction of art.
Monet’s residence and garden, nestled in the lazy town of Giverny, offers visitors a fascinating peek into the mind of the brilliant artist.
The surroundings of Giverny, especially Monet’s residence, may look oddly familiar. Claude resided here from 1883 until his death in 1926, and much of his work was based on the town and its charming surroundings. His garden has also served as inspiration for his canvas.
Trace the steps of the acclaimed impressionist artist as you step into the garden of his well-preserved residence. The garden is comprised of two sections; the flower garden in the front and the now-infamous water gardens that were created after Monet’s arrival to Giverny.
Step past lush tulip and poppy beds into a kaleidoscopic garden of scented roses, wildflowers, and bamboo trees laid in beautifully color-themed patterns and stretching on for almost a hectare. The plants were carefully selected to include colors that inspired Monet’s paintings. The surreal garden is now overseen by James Priest, an art-lover who attempts to follow Monet’s vision for the garden.
Once you can pull your eyes away from the vivid scene, explore the Japanese-inspired water garden, complete with a lily pond shaded by an ancient willow tree and a Japanese bridge; a dreamy scene immortalized in his painting, “The Artist’s Garden at Giverny.” Immerse yourself in the magical scene before you set about exploring the bright and homely house.
If you expect to find Monet’s work, you’ll be disappointed, but there’s still plenty that makes for interesting viewing. Monet spent over four decades living in Giverny, frequently drawing inspiration from his garden and surrounding nature, making a visit through the residence a passage through iconic French art and culture. More often than not, the landscape is as colorful and vibrant as Monet’s art.
Continue your exploration of French art with a visit to the village of Auvers-sur-Oise, where rustic charm and captivating art discoveries await. Tucked between a line of high cliffs and the Oise river, the little village is an essential part of France’s art history.
Despite its cultural significance and close proximity to Paris, Auvers-sur-Oise has pretty much flown under the radar. “Seriously beautiful” were the exact words used by the Dutch post-impressionist painter to describe Auvers-sur-Oise. Vincent Van Gogh fell so in love with the village that he lived there for three months until his untimely death but not before he painted 70 paintings inspired by the village.
The cultural significance, lush greenery, and old-world charm make Auvers-sur-Oise a common port of call for those on a river cruise. After all, this is the same village that lured several other notable painters to its gates, including Camille Pissarro, Paul Cézanne, and Charles-François Daubigny, who have all gone on to draw inspiration from the village’s quaint surroundings.
You’ll find two trails with close to 22 signposts that indicate the locations where famed artists have set up their easels. Each signpost offers viewers a comparison of the painting as well as the actual scene, giving an interesting analysis of their work.
The Church of Auvers, built in the 11th century, is easily the tour’s highlight thanks to a painting of it by Van Gogh. The historical church sits atop a small hill and was built to commemorate the death of the eldest son of King Louis VI.
Top off your tour of France’s art highlights with a visit to the captivating city of lights, Paris. From the city’s art to its architecture, history, and ancient culture seep through the seams of every building. What makes Paris especially appealing is that the city has something for every art lover.
The Louvre, home to the timeless Mona Lisa, holds the most enviable collection of art from across the world. Built on what was once a royal residence, you could lose yourself for weeks amidst the sculpture garden and the countless paintings from icons like Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, El Greco, Caravaggio, and Jacques-Louis David, to name a few. Because it could take you over a hundred days to view all the secrets of the Louvre, you’d have a more enjoyable experience if you plan your route well ahead of time.
While the Louvre often steals the spotlight when it comes to Parisian art, the city has plenty of other notable museums and art houses. One of them is the Musée National d’Art Moderne, a 43-year-old museum that ranks among the largest modern art museums on the continent. From La Danse by Henri Matisse to Robert Delaunay’s La Ville de Paris, the more than 10,000 artworks certainly make for impressive viewing.
Those looking for a more laidback experience should make a beeline to Musée Rodin. Set in what was once the sculptor’s studio and residence, Musée Rodin is a far cry from the busy, bustling art museum scene described above. Visitors are treated to the sights of over 300 of Rodin’s drawings, paintings, and sculptures. The Musée Rodin is housed in a mansion known as Hotel Biron, a stylish example of classic rocaille architecture.
Exploring France from a river perspective provides a fresh look at various historical and artistic experiences. It’s the perfect combination of discovery and relaxation.