One of my favorite paintings by Monet is La Cathédrale de Rouen. Le portail et la tour Saint-Romain, plein soleil ; harmonie bleue et or (1892-1893), which I first saw at the Musée d’Orsay in 2004. This is one in a series in which Monet was experimenting with capturing the façade of the Cathedral at different times of the day and year as it changed in appearance in these different lighting conditions. Monet was one of the first impressionists to paint a single subject in different light. He would also use this technique with Haystacks, Poplars, and, of course, his most famous subject of all Les Nymphéas de Giverny, Waterlilies. This concept is what originally drew me to his Cathedral paintings.
I have seen 8 of these exhibited Cathedral paintings since my first introduction:
- Rouen Cathedral, Le portail et la tour Saint-Romain, plein soleil and Rouen Cathedral, Soleil Matinal (d’Orsay),
- Rouen Cathedral, Facade (sunset), harmonie in gold and blue,1892-1894 (Musée Marmottan, Paris)
- Rouen Cathedral, Façade Sunlight and Rouen Cathedral, Façade West, 1892 (National Gallery in D.C.)
- The Portal of Rouen Cathedral in Morning Light, 1894, (Paul Getty Museum).
- Rouen Cathedral, The Façade in Sunlight, 1894, (Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA)
- Rouen Cathedral, Facade and the Tour d’Albane. Grey Weather, 1894, (Musee des Beaux Arts, Rouen) (thank you K !)
(The others are in Japan, Germany, Serbia, Switzerland so will have to see them in a future Monet exhibit!)
Monet was always mindful of documenting French culture and architecture in his paintings. During this time in France, following the destruction and defeat of the Franco-Prussian war, there was a renewed interest in Catholicism and Gothic style architecture which was first adopted during the Middle Ages. Therefore, Monet possibly wanted to document this renewal of culture and architecture of the Rouen Cathedral in his tableaux.
In 2012, my daughter Kalie and I took a train ride to Rouen to see this impressive edifice in which Monet devoted 5 years of his life. Wow, it exceeded all my expectations! The original cathedral dates back to the 4th century and, as with most medieval cathedrals, has been updated and rebuilt due to fires and bombings over the centuries.
Of course, most visitors come to Rouen to pay homage to Saint Joan of Arc (Jean d’arc), the young heroine who, after receiving a vision from the Archangel Michael, led an army to support Charles VII and recover France from English domination during the 100 Years war. Unfortunately, even after many victories, Joan was accused and put on trial for heresy. She was imprisoned in Rouen in the Donjon and burned at the stake (Place du Vieux Marché). There are several monuments to her life in the Joan of Arc Tower (the Donjon built by Philippe Auguste in 1204) and the Joan of Arc Church.
For the French Lit and Art community, Rouen was home to many: Gustave Flaubert (his birthplace is now a medical and dental museum so no Flaubert mementos), Guy du Maupassant, Roy Lichtenstein, Duchamp, and Victor Hugo, to name a few.
For the Western Civ community, the courtyard of the Hotel de Bourgtheroulde houses two sculptures: The Triumphs of Petrarch and the Field of Cloth of God, the diplomatic meeting of Kings Francois I of France and Henry VIII of England in 1515. This was a great serendipity for my daughter Lorin, who is a British History Professor (Mary Tudor scholar) and myself, a French professor and pedant of Francois I and the Renaissance. (I hope to explore this relationship between Henry VIII and Francois I more in length one day with Lor and perhaps write a book together on their collaboration and friendship! )
Near the old Marketplace is Renaissance archway and an old belfry which houses the Great Clock, which was in continuous operation from the 14th century until 1928; more than 5 million hours without stopping once. After the clock was fully restored in 2006, visitors now can go inside the clock tower and see the first bells of the city.
I love this quaint little French city. The fresh butter coloured, milky stones of the cathedrals, the Parliament building and cross-timbered town houses, and the Gothic and Renaissance architecture are all within walking distance from the train station (Gare de Rouen-Rive-Droite). Lovely little patisseries and boulangeries line these original, cobble-stoned streets. Rouen is the capital of Normandy and has a modern part of the city, as well, but I enjoy the historic part of town.
So much, so much! If you are vacationing in Paris, I highly recommend a visit to Rouen, a 2 ½ hour train ride. It gives one a sense of the old French culture and architecture of a Normandy countryside (think Belle in Beauty and the Beast) as well as history and cuisine. I have since returned several times to introduce my friends and family to this haven.
Thank you, Claude Monet, for giving us your Impression of Rouen on canvas!
Copyright 2018 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www. frenchquest.com)