Royalty & Fontainebleau History

Only 55 kms southeast of Paris is Fontainebleau. Napoleon named this area and it’s elegant Chateau “the house of the centuries; the true home of kings,”. He was certainly correct. The Chateau and it’s surroundings were the royal residence for more than 700 years! The forests of Fontainebleau were used in those days as the hunting grounds and recreational areas for the kings & queens and their massive entourage. A visit here and the amazing Fontainebleau history unfolds before your eyes….

Fontainebleau Tourism

In the 19th century, Fontainebleau becomes a massive tourist attraction. With the advent of new railway lines, the forests of Fontainebleau became accessible for all to enjoy! The Parisian city dwellers fell in love with the stunning natural landscapes dotted with pretty rural villages. Fontainebleau became the perfect weekend getaway!

The Forests of Fontainebleau - Claude Monet Landscape
The Forests of Fontainebleau – Claude Monet Landscape [Public Domain]

So much tourism was happening here in the mid 1800s, that the entrepreneur Claude-François Denecourt created clearly marked walking trails throughout the forest. He also published guidebooks describing where to go and what to see! In 1861, Fontainebleau forests became the first declared nature preserve in world history.

Fontainebleau & it’s Rich Artistic Past!

The natural beauty of the region drew in the artists as well. It’s forests became an “open-air painting studio” and the revolutionary technique of en plein-air painting began! The painters even established an artists’ colony in the nearby village of Barbizon. The word spread quickly and small town Barbizon became a popular artistic hub for both French and foreign artists alike.

 Theodore Rousseau  from the Barbizon School -  Fontainebleau History
Theodore Rousseau from the Barbizon School – Fontainebleau forest [Public Domain]

Here in the forests, the painters studied the effects of light and changing colors. They painted the scenery under all types of weather conditions and at different times of the day. They desired to capture the ever changing face of nature. This became the hallmark of these painters and their movement became known as the Barbizon School.

The Barbizon School established landscape painting as a subject in its own right. Although so incredibly obvious today, the Barbizon painters were revolutionary in their methods of setting up their easels and painting outdoors!

The Young “Impressionists-To-Be” Study under the Barbizon Painters

In 1860 the artist Charles Gleyre began sending his young students, which included Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley and Frederic Bazille to Barbizon to sketch and draw.

Edouard Manet, Camille Pissarro and Paul Cezanne also sketched and painted in the Fontainebleau forests.

Art historians now agree that it was here, in the forests of Fontainebleau, that the foundations for Impressionism art were laid. However, with the later success of the Impressionism art movement, the vital ground work of the Barbizon painters was overlooked and forgotten for a very long time.

Frederic Bazille  painting -  Fontainebleau
Frederic Bazille painting – Fontainebleau forest [Public Domain]

Fontainebleau & the Impressionism Painters

The northwest part of Fontainebleau forest was the most popular area to visit by tourists and painters alike. This part of the forest was close to the pretty villages of Barbizon and Chailly &, offered lots of accommodation. In addition, there were many beautiful sites to visit including Bas-Bréau Pavé de Chailly &, Carrefour de l’Epine.

The impressionism painters, Monet, Sisley, Bazille and Renoir visited the Fontainebleau forests. They painted the very same scenery that the Barbizon artists painted a generation before. Like their predecessors, the impressionists painted en plain-air and studied the forests under changing natural lights and colors. These young artists however painted with a brighter palette of colors and used much broader brushstrokes!

Impressionism is part of Fontainebleau History
Auguste Renoir Paintings – Fontainebleau forest [Public Domain]

Travelling in the Steps of the Impressionists & Fontainebleau History

Walk the Trails & Explore the Beautiful Nature of the Fontainebleau Forests

The Fontainebleau forests are still a desirable weekend getaway for the Parisians. Not much has changed in that respect. They come to walk along the very same walking trails of the Barbizon painters and the impressionists. Incredibly, more than 10 million visitors a year walk through this forest. For more information of walking trails, and other outdoor activities, press here.

The Walking Trails of Fontainebleau forest
The Walking Trails of Fontainebleau forest – David Roussel (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Barbizon “The Village of Painters”

Barbizon still draws the tourists & artists. The small rustic village centers around its main street (Grand Rue) buzzing with activity. Here you will find plenty of art galleries attesting to it’s rich artistic past. The main street will entice you with its specialty shops, cafes, restaurants, quality delicatessens, jewelers and more.

You can follow the Barbizon Artists by:

  • Visiting the Museum of the Barbizon Painters
  • Popping into the house-workshop Jean-François Millet.
  • Walking The Painters Trail – is a 6 km walk known as Sentier des Peintres. Download the brochure and map, which provides excellent explanations of each landmark. This lovely two hour walk will lead you to the significant places of the Barbizon painters, including their beloved Fontainebleau forest.

Looking for guided tours from Paris to Fontainebleau and Barbizon? Press here for options

Barbizon "The Village of Painters"
Barbizon “The Village of Painters” / Photo by Alexandre Dolique (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
The Barbizon Painters Trail
Sentier des Peintres in Barbizon / Photo by Alexandre Dolique (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Go Back in Time & Visit the Fontainebleau Castle (Chateau de Fontainebleau)

Chateau de Fontainebleau is HUGE! It contains over 1500 rooms and is surrounded by 130 acres of parkland and gardens. It is the only royal castle to have been continuously inhabited for seven hundred years! Visiting this castle will open your eyes to the long gone era of Kings and Queens.

In addition, the Chateau offers temporary exhibitions. Check out their website to find out what is currently showing. Guided tours are also available to help you navigate this massive castle. Press here for guided tour options.

Admission to the Château de Fontainebleau is free on the first Sunday of each month (Except in July and August)

Chateau de Fontainebleau  - History of the Kings and Queens
Chateau de Fontainebleau / Photo by Kenneth Lu (CC BY 2.0)