Seine river is star of first Impressionist festival

A visitor at the 'Impressionism along the Seine' exhibition. ( AFP)

Monet lived near it, Caillebotte sailed on it and any number of them likely spent time in the picturesque cafes along its banks.

Now one museum in France has set out to show how France's iconic river Seine was one of the Impressionist painters' greatest influences.

As France gears up for its first major homage to Impressionism, the Giverny Museum in Normandy, north of Paris, has opened an exhibit featuring work by a list of Impressionists to illustrate the connection, but it goes beyond that as well.

It also captures a time when the Seine, which bisects Paris and cuts through the French countryside before emptying into the English Channel, saw its bucolic setting transformed in many areas by industrialisation.

Such changes not only altered the landscape and the lives of those living there, but also fired the imaginations of the painters, said Marina Ferretti, the exhibit's curator.

"The Seine was able to become the birthplace of new painting in the second half of the 19th century because it was an area for all innovations," said Ferretti.

For the Impressionists, most of whom painted in the mid-to-late 1800s, the combination of industry and leisure along the Seine proved to be a rich source of inspiration, she said.

"It is life itself that they wanted to describe, and in their paintings the clear silhouette of a walker or a pleasure boat's sparkling sail often gives way to a background of factory smokestacks and metal bridges," the curator said.

There was the light as well, of course, and its reflection off the water that surely left its mark on the painters who would change art forever.

The some 50 paintings gathered at the museum serve as a prelude to an Impressionist festival beginning in June throughout Normandy, which will also cover music, literature, theatre and cinema.

There will be a Claude Debussy opera, a major art show in Rouen with 100 key works on display as well as 19th-century-style riverside balls and open-air picnics.

Among the paintings on display at Giverny are masterpieces from Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, Edouard Manet and Gustave Caillebotte.


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