Shoaled Out!


WP_20131116_006Inspired by the Normandy coastline, its abundance of little creeks and inlets, and its majestic chalk cliffs which dominate the coastline, this shoal of fishes in fabrics inspired by the Impressionist painters who graced the region around the 1860’s are filled with beautiful scented Provencale lavender.

Last year the entire shoal sold out in a matter of hours, and I find them once again in great demand and have been busy “creating” when I find a rare moment of peace. The scented “poissons” are perfect for laying between layers of clothes in a chest of drawers, or hanging from a lone door handle to gently fragrance a room. I should know, because with 50 poisson already wallowing in the shallows of my grandmother’s old wooden trough, my home smells wonderful!

If you would like a few to buy as gifts this Christmas for an elderly aunt or an ageing grandmother, contact me in the comments section and I will be in touch.

This shoal have been netted by my children’s school Christmas Fête,

..but there are plenty more making their way upstream!

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The Impressionists, Monet and Giverny


Last weekend, just before ‘husband à l’etranger’ set off again for Nigeria, we walked into town to try to pick up a fridge magnet for one of his colleagues. Slightly bizarre, you may think, but actually, his colleague bought a fridge magnet for every place he’d visited with his wife when on motorbike – only in Rouen he’d failed to get hold of one. I knew that the Musée de Beaux Arts had some really lovely ones of Impressionist views of Rouen and so it seemed a good opportunity for a sunday morning walk.

The only problem was that this particular sunday, Rouen seemed to be a little more difficult to get around than usual. There was security fencing on all the vital corners that we wanted to pass by, and police presence was heavy, especially near the art gallery. Eventually, we took a seat at a café in the sunshine, and watched the activity around us. It wasn’t long before a couple of limos passed by withdarkened glass and motorbike  outriders. François Hollande, the president was in town.

This summer Rouen celebrates it’s strong link with the Impressionists with the  ‘Festival Normandie Impressioniste’, This is the second time this event has taken place, the first being in 2010. Hollande had come for the official opening of the Exhibition. Most people probably recognise the famous series of 33 paintings of Rouen cathedral by Monet, but what many don’t know is that the art collector and patron of many of the struggling impressionists, François Depeaux had at one time in his collection 600 of their works of art, including at least one of the cethedral series. A messy divorce forced him to try to offload the paintings, and in 1903 he offered them all to the Musée de Beaux Arts at Rouen. The board of governors at the musée refused them all thanks to their ‘avant guard’ status, and by the time they finally changed their mind in 1909, the collection had dwindled to a mere 60. Nevertheless the Musée has a superb Impressionist wing, and to celebrate the Impressionist Festival, is exhibiting another 100 from private collections from around the world. The theme this year is Eblouissant Reflets (dazzling refelctions) celebrating the Impressionists love of painting the movement and reflective quality of the water – particularly on the Seine and the Normandy coast. The exhibition runs from now until 29th September, along with several other large exhibitions in Normandy, and the wonderful Son et Lumiere (sound and light) show on the cathedral facade after dusk.

Whilst we were sitting in the café, we picked up the local paper and were amused to see that ‘les effectifs des guides conferenciers ont été augmentés. Ils passent de 42 à 47 pour prendre en charge le flot de touristes.’ (The numbers of Conference Guides have been augmented from 42 to 47 to take charge of the flow of tourists) I, and my new colleagues had made it into the news! Rouen by all accounts was set to be busy this summer!

In the week preceeding ‘husband à l’etranger’s return, with a mere week left until my final exam for Guide, the arrival of a close friend from England allowed me to suggest a last bit of Impressionist revision. A visit to the home of Monet at Giverny, only 30 minutes by train from Rouen. Arrivals at the station at Vernon, the nearest station to Giverny have the choice of shuttle-bus or taxi to run the final 5 kilometers. Luckily my friend and I think alike, and although an overcast day, delighted in the idea of a bike ride from the station along a disused railway track to the home of Monet. (Bikes can be hired from the café next to the station). The sun blazed as we headed out along the Seine valley and on arrival we avoided queues for entry thanks to pre-booked online tickets.

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The unseasonably long winter had kept in check the spring flowers, but it was still pretty, and the house was lovely, mostly for its modest and familial proportions. Monet was passionate about his garden, and though I am not a great lover of crowds, I must admit that I really want to go back to see it in its summer prime.

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Just as we left the Japanese garden, the first drops of rain began to fall, and by the time we had hopped back onto our bikes in search of our favorite of the  handful of cafés, the heavens opened, and we flopped into the seats at our table bedraggled. My friend wasted no time in ‘selling’ my guiding ‘talents’ to a neighbouring American couple!

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We were charmed by our hilarious waiter who offered us Psssscht (pronounced sheet)(an alternative lemonade to 7up) to quench our thirst. When we could barely contain our laughter, he looked a little concerned, and asked what he’d said.

When we explained that it sounded a little rude, he mumbled

‘merde’,

to which we replied

‘exactly’, and promptly fell about again!

We countered the continuing rain to visit the other art gallery, the Musée des Impressionists in Giverny, and visited the exhibition of  Signac, before climbing back onto our bikes, and back into warm sunshine for our return journey home.

But for now on the agenda, is my own visit to the Musée de Beaux Arts to see the visiting works of Art in the ‘Eblouissant Reflets’ exhibition, before I start presenting, amongst other things, the permanent Impressionist gallery to the summer visitors.

The Son et Lumiere at the cathedral is worth every minute of the late-ish night required, the scaffolding for the restoration of the cathedral facade being removed just in time to allow the Impressionist images to be projected onto it. Perhaps i’ll see you there?

Monet’s Seine and the Hand of War.


Some of us live in war zones, and some of us are lucky enough to live in peace. A great many places have felt the full power of war, creating and destroying  history in equal measure. Normandy is one such region of France where the evidence of war sits silent, witness to former invasion.

When I arrived in Rouen nearly three years ago I took the city at face value. The antiques quarter, the cathedral quarter, the colombage timberwork, the redbrick, and the postwar ‘communist’ style concrete river frontage. Each element having its own undoubted character and atmosphere.

Then last a year last summer I had the great fortune to find myself outside the Musée de Beaux Arts on the final day of the Impressionist Exhibition, and was drawn inside like a moth to a flame. I was fully expecting to find myself in front of the ‘waterlillies’ but was astounded to find myself in front of a series of paintings little known to the vast majority of public, lent by private collections, many of which I am unable to reproduce, but all of which depicting views in and around Rouen in the time of Monet.

Monet stayed in Rouen between the years of 1892 – 1898 while painting his famous series on the Cathedral, and produced a wide variety of paintings of the Seine in various media, along with his friends Pissarro and Gaugin.

Today, as I wandered the Seine trying to determine where he would have placed his easel, what came into sharp focus was the riverside architecture at the time of the Impressionists, in comparison with the post war buildings we find today.

Whilst the post war Rive Droite retains its verticality, the war wiped out the classic stone architecture with their shop fronts and awnings, their mansards and tall chimneys for a bland concrete sprawl.

The Bouldieu Bridge, here painted by Pissarro exists today, but not in it’s original form. Even at the time of the Monet, the long masted ships and steam boats would have docked at Rouen, their wares being transported up river by barge just as the container ships of today are offloaded onto ‘peniches’ to continue their journey to Paris. The bridge was destroyed on the morning of  9 June 1940 by the French, just 52 years after its construction to prevent the progress of the German forces. The new Pont Bouldieu built in 1955 equally provides a source of inspiration to the modern day artist Arne Quinze.

But how the river traffic has changed…

I spent hours walking the Seine before realising that Monet had placed himself on the Rive Gauche east of the Ile Lacroix.  Not immediately finding his vantage point, this painting gave me a clue.

The Ile Lacroix is one of the few areas of Rouen riverside which retains its greenery.

Sadly this abundant greenery from this painting taken from the Rive gauche no longer exists. I took artistic liberty to take the view from the other direction.

The Seine below Rouen has changed beyond all recognition, swathes of building taken out in bombing raids, industrialisation and the construction of  huge grain stores sadly change all but the moody aspect of the skies!

But inspired by Monet I enjoyed watching the rivercraft  passing, or moored to the posts which remain to this day. Watching the ‘peniches’ (barges) making their way steadily upriver laden with coal, sand or gravel I thought about how they formed  makeshift bridges  ‘end to end’ laterally across the river for allied access until the new bridges were constructed at the end of the war.

The moody weather didn’t detract from the activity on the river, nor from the craft moored there.

The chalk cliff of Côte St Catherine remains, dominating the eastern flank of the city.

monnetFrom Côte St Catherine Monet painted his famous view of Rouen.

Sadly, as much as the tall masts from the Armada celebrations in 2008 evoke a little of the sense of the river at the time of Monet, where masts and steam competed for dominance, we can never reclaim the architecture –  the rubble long since cleared and replaced.

Had it not been for Monet, would I have ever wondered what was there before?

 … thanks to the Impressionists artistic genius, I have at least an idea what the Seine and the Rouen quayside was like before the hand of war had its say.

Where do you live?

This post is part of the Expat Blog Hop – Feel free to hop from blog to blog, but in the meantime tell me where you live and leave your email for a opportunity to receive a free momento of ‘Monet’s Seine’.

Steve Bichard.com

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