The wide-ranging Normandy Impressionist Festival (Destination Impressionisme) runs from March 22 to September 22, 2024. Over one hundred museums, sites, houses and studios of the19th century artists are putting on over 200 exhibitions as well as offering a variety of events and experiences.

The Birth of Impressionism

Paris 1874 Inventing Impressionism showing interior of photographer's studio in Aptil 1874 in immersive experience
Paris 1874 Inventing Impressionism

It’s the evening of April 15, 1874, and a group of 30 young, unknown and struggling  painters gather in the studio of the photographer Félix Nadar at 35 boulevard des Capucines for an exhibition of their work. The Cooperative and Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors and Printmakers included Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Berthe Morisot, Claude Monet, Camille Pissaro, Alfred Sisley and Paul Cézanne. They were showing works that had been rejected by the Académie des Beaux-Arts Salon. 

The exhibition was not a success; it was too revolutionary for the time. The name ‘Impressionism’ was coined as an insult by a Parisian journalist called Louis Leroy. He was writing about Monet’s Impressionism, Soleil Levant, a painting of the sun rising over the port at Le Havre and he referred to it as ‘unfinished’. He wrote sarcastically in the journal Charivari on April 25, 1874: “What does this painting represent? Impression! Impression, I was sure of it. I also said to myself, since I am impressed, there must be some impression in it.”

Impressionism was born in that studio, and greeted with universal initial horror; the style was such a complete change from the stuffy classicism of the past 100 years. It took decades before Impressionism was appreciated and the artists struggled for many years.

2024 Normandy Impressionist Festival

The exhibitions centre around Normandy and Paris, the two places most associated with the Impressionists. It was on the beaches of the Normandy coastline and along the bustling boulevards of Paris where the artists set up their easels to record life and paint in the open air, something made possible by the invention of oil paints in tubes.

Major Exhibitions of Normandy Impressionist Festival

Paris

Musée d’Orsay: Paris 1874 Inventing Impressionism is a fabulous exhibition at the museum that has the greatest collection of Impressionist paintings in the world. 
March 26 to July 14, 2024.

The exhibition is in two parts, starting with the virtual reality 40-minute tour which takes you back to Paris in the 1870s with its glorious boulevards, new buildings and feeling of expansion. Tonight with the Impressionists is in the Seine Gallery
Mar 26 to Aug 11, 2024.

Then tour the main exhibition which begins with Renoir’s La Parisienne and La Danseuse which were originally displayed in the 1874 exhibition. Other impressionist works, paintings, drawings and sculptures stand alongside the classical traditional works of art accepted by the official Académie des Beaux-Arts Salon in 1874.

Pierre August Renoir - La Parisienne. Famous painting of beautiful lady in flowing, bustling blue costume
Pierre August Renoir – La Parisienne. Collection National Museum of Cardiff

The exhibition then travels to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, September 8, 2024 to January 20, 2025.

Gustave Caillebotte – Paintings of Men shows Caillebotte’s portraits of his male relatives as well as ordinary workers, sportsmen and naked men, another departure from the strict traditions of the past. 
Oct 8 to Jan 19, 2025.

Rouen

Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen: Normandism Exhibition. David Hockney has painted around 30 pictures of the Normandy that he loves.
March 22 to Sep 22, 2024.

Whistler: The Butterfly Effect. The exhibition concentrates on the works of the American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler between 1874 and 1914, and demonstrate his influence on the later abstraction artists.
May 24 to Sep 22, 2024.

Rouen Cathedral: Cathedral of Light by Robert Wilson. American visual artist and director Robert Wilson has created a sound and light show to cover the façade of the great cathedral in Rouen, the subject of so many Impressionist paintings. Watch the extraordinary lights and listen to Isabelle Huppert reading the poetry of Maya Angelou and the music of Philip Glass.
May 24 to Sep 28.

Rouen Cathedral lit up with dark facade and many little lights
Rouen Cathedral lit up

Caen

Musée des Beaux-Arts: The spectacle of Merchandise: Art and Commerce 1860-1914. The 19th century was a time of revolution in France, witnessing a huge industrial and economic transformation. Market towns and cities come alive with new life, new markets, new ventures, captured by the artists. The exhibition shows paintings, photos, sculptures, films, drawings, engravings along with commercial signs, advertising posters and more. Every city became, as Charles Baudelaire wrote in 1859: ‘a store of images and signs’.
Apr 6-Sep 18, 2024.

Church of Saint-Nicolas:  Exhibition of large-scale paintings and monumental sculptures by American artist Sean Scully, who was such a major influence on contemporary painting.
Jun 21 to Sep 9, 2024.

Le Havre

The Museum of Modern Art (MuMA) is hosting a different exhibition. Photographing in Normandy (1840-1890) – A Pioneering dialogue between the Arts has some of the great paintings alongside photographs.
May 25 to Sep 22, 2024.

Sepia photograph by Alphonse Davanne of Etretat in 1862 showing hill in background, large house and empty cobbled streets
Photo of Etretat by Alphonse Davanne 1962-3 © Le Havre Bibliothèque municipale

Giverny

Musée des Impressionnismes: Impressionism and the Sea takes us into familiar, much loved works at Deauville and Cabourg, alongside lesser known art by the main Impressionists.
Mar 29 to Jun 30, 2024.

Eugene Boudin beach at Deauville with huge sky, small shore of sand and grass, and figures in water with boat
Eugène Boudin: Deauville Beach Public Domain Mulhouse Fine Art Museum

Hiramatsu Reiji: Water Lilies Symphony displays work by the Japanese artist who fell in love with Monet and his garden: ‘I constantly dream of Giverny’. Paintings, drawings, screens, drawing books and more. 
Jul 12 to Nov 3, 2024.

Painting of water lilies by Hiramatsu Reiji at Giverny showing darkend surroundings of pond with water lilies lit up in orange and red
Nympheas by Hiramatsu Reiji at Giverny

Honfleur

Musée Eugène Boudin: In this exceptionally pretty little port town, the museum is putting on the exhibition: In the Company of Eugène Boudin 1824-1898. The exhibition shows mainly his sites of the sea and town scenes by the artist who was born here.
Apr 20 to Aug 26, 2024.

Eugene Boudin: Honflueur. Lqrge sky, water in front and ships and boats, large and small sailing boats in harbour with hills behind
Eugène Boudin: Honfleur. Brazil Museum of Fine Arts

Jumièges Abbey

Les terres impressionnistes et Jumièges. Laurent Grasso has created an immersive exhibition around the ruins which, according to the organisers, will ‘create enigmatic atmospheres’.
May 25 to Sep 2024.
Jumièges is one of the most atmospheric of the places in Great Sacred Sites of France; well worth a visit.

Fantasy, imaginative immersive experience at Jumieges showing strange coloured clouds on ground between abbey ruins
Laurent Grasso at Jumièges

Houses and Studios of the Impressionists

Walking around an artist’s house and studio gives a wonderfully realistic feel of the painter, their life and work. The most visited, and well-known, is the house of Claude Monet in Giverny (see above).

Jean-François Millet was born in 1841 in Gréville-Hague, northeast Normandy. The modest house is now a museum, recalling his childhood in the mid 19th century.
In 1849 he moved to Barbizon on the edge of the Forest of Fontainebleau and lived there until 1875. Here he painted the local rural life, in particular L’Angélus and Les Glaneuses, two canvases that have been exhibited around the world. The Millet Museum has his paintings as well as other Impressionist painters, engravings and prints.

Jean Francois Millet's painting The Gleaners with three women in long skirts and turbans bending over picking up straw from the ground with buildings in background
Jean François Millet The Gleaners in the Musée d’Orsay

Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894) lived in Yerres from 1860 to 1880. The large Caillebotte Museum south of Paris occupies his house. A visit takes you back to the late 19th-century and gives you the chance to see many of his works.

Rainy Day by Gustave Caillebotte Impressionist showing two well dressed 19th century people under an umbrella in a raily Paris cobbled street with buildings behind
Rainy Day by Gustave Caillebotte – Art Institute of Chicago

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) spent his final days at the Auberge Ravoux in Auvers-sur-Oise. He lived in the atmospheric room under the eaves of the house in a Paris suburb. Today it’s a restaurant; have lunch or dinner then see the room.
More about Vincent van Gogh in Paris.

Black and white photo of Auberge Ravoux where van Gogh spent his last days. Exterior front of wine shop with one laady standing and men sitting at outside tables
Auberge Ravoux in the 1870s

More Impressionist Delights to Savour

There are plenty of events put on at the Impressionist Normandy festival.
Take a cycle tour around Giverny with a guide who knows the village well and makes sure you see all the major sites linked to Claude Monet.

Try your hand at painting like an Impressionist. The Alabaster Coast provides the inspiration; you provide (hopefully) the artistic expertise, with an art teacher to guide you.

Valleuse de Vaucottes Normandy with people painting on cliff top in field of grass and flowers looking at dramatic cliffs and beaches and sea on the Alabaster Coast
Painting at Valleuse de Vaucottes © Marie Anais Thierry

If you want to experience how the Impressionist painters spent their leisure hours, try the Founaise restaurant at Chatou. It’s a restaurant but the outside terrace recalls the guinguettes, open-air cafés often located beside a river where the atmosphere was casual and the food and drink offering a cheap and cheerful option.

Chatou Fournaise restaurant beside the Seine with river on left, tables and chairs on a terrace and a red and white striped awning above
Chatou’s Fournaise restaurant © CPR/Tripelon-Jarry

Useful Information

Look at both these official websites for all the information on the wide-ranging exhibitions and events:

Impressionist Adventures
Normandy Impressionist Festival

Normandy and Impressionism – A general overall look at the great Impressionist art movement and what to see in Normandy
Normandy Travel Guide – What to see and Do
Getting to Normandy

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