As I made my way counterclockwise around the perimeter of France for a month and a half, I stayed in some towns that I only knew about through the artists that resided there. In the ancient Roman city of Rouen in Northern France, I strolled right by the stunning Gothic Cathedral at sunset in awe as if I’d seen it somewhere before.
Maybe in my dreams? Nope. It was in the series paintings by Claude Monet who tried to capture the amazing light and colors that formed on the façade when the light of dusk meets the white stone. And now I was seeing exactly why he painted it – it was marvelous.
In Aix-en-Provence, I followed in the footsteps of Paul Cézanne. There are plaques on the ground all over town pointing out places where he lived, ate, drank, or painted. Cézanne was born in Aix-en-Provence to a wealthy family with hopes of him becoming a banker and a lawyer. He fled to Paris to paint instead. Cézanne can be said to form the bridge between late 19th century Impressionism and the early 20th century’s new line of artistic form, Cubism.
In the charming winding medieval streets of the old town in Arles, one of my favorite stops in France, I was mesmerized by Vincent Van Gogh’s shadow. Although he painted more than 200 canvases here, not a single one remains today. But what does remain is the oh-so-familiar sight of the ‘café at night.’
Supposedly this is the café Van Gogh painted and the very one that hung in my mom’s house and above my own fireplace for many years. I always loved the feeling it captured of those old European streets with the echoes of conversation and clinking of glasses on balmy nights. It’s that sound I hear walking around old streets all over Europe-the one where you almost forget that you are outdoors.
On a dark note, it was also here where Van Gogh lobbed off a part of his own ear after a spat with his housemate, Paul Gauguin. All around town, you can see points where Van Gogh set up his easel to paint famous works such as Starry night over the Rhone (the other, more famous ‘starry night’ he painted during his time in an asylum just down the road) and the Yellow House – which is unfortunately no longer there, as like much of France, it was obliterated during the bombings of World War II. Sadly, Van Gogh suffered from major mental illness and depression and shot himself to death at the young age of 37. At the time, he had only sold one painting (for about $70) and died penniless.
And finally, in Lyon it was where the motion picture was born. Auguste and Louis Lumiere both worked for their father’s photographic firm. The Lumiere brothers patented a number of significant processes leading up to their film camera – most notably the tiny top and bottom sprockets that are used as a means to advance the film through the camera and projector.
Their ‘cinématographe’ itself was patented in 1895 and their first public screening with an admission charge was held in December, 1895, at Paris’s Salon Indien du Grand Café. In a historical district of Lyon, The Institut Lumière, is a must stop for film-buffs. This museum showcases cinema’s glorious beginnings and is devoted to the Lumieres. It prides itself in conservation and contains many historical films, books, photos, and pieces of cinematographic equipment.