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The River Seine Paintings – Capturing French life on the river in the 19th century

The vast amount of river Seine paintings indicates that the impressionists never tired of capturing it’s flow and colors. Claude Monet, Pierre Bonnard and Berthe Morisot resided near it and Caillebotte sailed on it. Renoir, Seurat, Manet, Signac, Pissarro and many others just set up their easels along the meanders of the river’s banks.

Alfred Sisley Seine river painting
Alfred Sisley river Seine painting on the Island of Grande Jatte [Public Domain]

The Seine – A Favorite Stomping Ground

The long iconic Seine river flows through the heart of Paris. It then meanders through the French countryside before flowing into the English Channel.  It was a favorite subject of the Impressionists from so many locations!!

The vast number of river Seine paintings illustrates the strong connection between this river and the Impressionism Art Movement.

 L'Hirondelle Steamer on the Seine  by Paul Signac - Pointillism art
L’Hirondelle Steamer on the Seine by Paul Signac – Pointillism art

Plein-air painting along the banks of the Seine River

The Impressionism painters adopted a new avant-garde technique of setting up their easels and painting outdoors. This technique is called en plein-air painting. Painting outdoors violated all traditional academic rules of that time.

Plein-air painting enabled the impressionist to experience the changing lights on the landscape. They loved capturing the changing lights and the colorful reflections it created in the flowing Seine river.

The Seine River-Villez near Giverny - Claude Monet Painting 1883
The Seine at Port-Villez near Giverny – Claude Monet Painting 1883

Industrialization changes the Seine River landscapes

The 19th century marks the industrial revolution in France. The landscapes of both the cities and the countryside are rapidly changing.

All over France they are building new factories and industries. Along the banks of the River Seine, pastoral scenic landscapes change into industrial work zones. In turn, growing populations change small rural villages into towns, and towns into cities.

Industrial Port of Rouen - Camille Pissarro Painting
Industrial Port of Rouen – Camille Pissarro Painting

With Industrialization, they destroy the stone and wooden bridges crossing over the Seine river and build wide steel bridges . The bridges now need to accommodate motor cars and trains. Sailing ships and barges replace the small rowboats.

All this, the Impressionists recorded in their river Seine paintings.

Seine painting at Asnieres - Van Gogh landscapes
Bridges across the Seine at Asnieres – Van Gogh landscapes

Trains make the Seine River accessible to all!

France also builds an efficient railroad system in the 19th century. Big cities along the Seine are now connected to one another. Traveling between Paris, Rouen and Le Havre was now quick and easy. The river was now even more accessible for all to enjoy!

The city people of France are now holidaying more in the rural villages and towns along the Seine river. This too is recorded in the paintings of the Impressionists.

 'La Grenouillère' at Croissy-sur-Seine - Pierre-August Renoir Painting
‘La Grenouillère’ at Croissy-sur-Seine – Pierre-August Renoir Painting

Some noteworthy places on the Seine River & in the footsteps of the Impressionists

  1. Paris
  2. Honfleur
  3. Bougival
  4. Rouen

1. Paris & the Impressionists

19th century Paris was the epicenter of the Art World. Any painter aspiring for a successful career, came to Paris to be part of the vibrant art scene. Working class Montmartre was THE happening place for the poor budding artists. Here they made connections, shared new ideas, rented studios, exhibited artworks and paid low rent!!!

The Impressionists painted Paris with pride. They painted its beautiful parks, the bridges and grand boulevards, the street life and buildings. The impressionists used the bright colors of nature even when capturing the capital.

Pont Neuf over the River Seine, Paris
Pont Neuf over the River Seine, Paris – Painting by Renoir

The Paris Salon, the art critics and art collectors scorned the impressionists. For a long time these painters struggled to make a living. However, the impressionists believed in their new modern art style and persevered.

Impressionism Museums in Paris:

Paris is still the greatest city to enjoy Impressionism artworks. Below is a list of some fabulous art museums with impressive Impressionism collections

  • Musee D’Orsay – it is a mammoth museum. It exhibits the greatest collection of the late 19th-century paintings in the world
  • Musée Orangerie is amazing. It is famous for the huge Claude Monet  Water Lilies but also houses a wonderful impressionism collection
  • Musee Marmottan Monet in Montmartre showcases a large collection of impressionism paintings. It also exhibits the largest Claude Monet collection anywhere
Seine River in Paris
Seine River in Paris / Photo by Ben Jeffrey (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The working class district of Montmartre was once the nerve center of the Impressionism Art Movement. Today Montmartre still has its village-like charm, unlike anywhere else in Paris. It continues to lure the budding artists from near & afar.

In Montmartre – Follow the footsteps of the Impressionists & visit the following places:

  • Musée de Montmartre was once an artistic commune. Poor upcomimg artists came here seeking cheap accommodation. Pierre Auguste RenoirRaoul Dufy and others lived here at one period or another. With its rich artistic past, the building is now a fantastic museum about Montmartre’s history.
  • Pop into the famous night club The Moulin Rouge. The post-impressionist Toulouse-Lautrec frequented this cabaret every night. He immortalized the buzzing & seductive atmosphere in many of his artworks. 
Moulin Rouge in Paris
Moulin Rouge Nightclub / Image by Hermann Traub from Pixabay 

Go to the cemeteries & visit the graves of the modern masters!

Pere Lachaise Paris Cemetery
The beautiful Pere Lachaise Paris Cemetery / Image by 139904 from Pixabay 

2. Honfleur the Birthplace of Impressionism

Art historians claim that Honfleur is the birthplace of impressionism. It was here where young Claude Monet and his friend Alfred Sisley studied light effects under the guidance of the Honfleur painter & mentor  Eugene Boudin.

Honfleur is a picturesque medieval port town located in the Normandy region of France. It sits on the estuary, where the Seine river flows into the English Channel.

Honfleur Normandy
Medieval Honfleur – the birthplace of Impressionism

A Medieval Port Town With a Rich Artistic Past

The main attraction of Honfleur is that it still resembles a village of a long distant past. You can even imagine the young impressionists setting up their easels along the quay and painting those breathtaking views.

Today, rather than receiving fishing boats or commercial ships, the Vieux Bassin port attracts the mega-yachts of the wealthy. Trendy boutiques, tourist shops and delicatessens stocked with local produce line the pretty cobbled-stone streets. Charming French restaurants & cafes stretch their outdoor seating onto the streets.

Honfleur oozes with old time charm!

Honfleur port painted by Boudin
Honfleur port- Eugene Boudin painting

Go visit the wonderful Eugene Boudin Museum

Eugene Boudin Art Museum, in the town’s old quarter, showcases artworks of Honfleur and the surrounding region. The museum isn’t large and contains a wonderful collection of Eugene Boudin paintings. You will even find some Monet landscapes here.

3. Bougival & the River Seine Paintings

17 kms west of Paris and on the banks of the Seine is the town of Bougival. Art historians have named this town “the Cradle of Impressionism”. In the 19th century many impressionists came here to immortalize its landscapes onto their canvases.

Bougival, during the Belle Epoque was a popular destination. The picturesque town offered beautiful walking paths along the river banks, cafes and restaurants facing the river and fashionable boating regattas on the Seine. The Seine river was at the heart of all entertainment in Bougival.

Bougival & The Impressionists

The impressionists who fell under its spell include Claude Monet, Berthe MorisotCamille PissarroPierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley and others.  Some stayed for short periods, and others like Monet and Morisot rented homes here.

It was the River Seine that lured the Impressionists. They set up their easels outdoors and captured the natural light and the picturesque scenery in and around Bougival. In particular, the Seine river and its green, lush banks captured their attention. Nearly all their artworks of Bougival capture the flowing Seine River.

Bougival -River Seine Painting  by Berthe Morisot
Bougival -River Seine Painting by Berthe Morisot

Impressionism Walking Trail in Bougival

From Bougival to Argenteuil, the banks of the Seine offer beautiful walks.  These paths take you to the views that lured the Impressionists. Along the length of the path, you will view twelve panels showing reproductions of Impressionism paintings of Bougival.

These panels are located at the same spot where the impressionists set up their easels and painted. Some of the landscapes have barely changed.

This wonderful walk is a MUST if you are a fan of the impressionists! To download a map of the Bougival impressionism walking trail, press here.

The Impressionism walking trail in Bougival
The Impressionism Walking Trail in Bougival / Photo by OTMarly (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

4. Rouen & The Impressionists

Rouen city was an open-air studio for many impressionism painters. Camille Pissarro and Alfred Sisley spent time in Rouen and painted its landscapes. In their paintings, they captured the narrow historical streets, the Seine river and the picturesque houses dotted along the banks of the river.

The industrialized port of Rouen captivated Pissarro, which he immortalized in one of his paintings.

Rouen  - River Seine Painting by Camille Pissarro
Industrial Rouen – River Seine Painting by Camille Pissarro

Rouen’s magnificent cathedral dazzled Claude Monet. In fact, Monet rented an apartment with direct views of the cathedral. In typical Monet style, he painted the cathedral again and again. He painted at different times of the day and in different weather conditions. This way Monet was able to capture the changing lights and colors.

Where to go & what to see in Rouen

The Impressionism Walking Trail in Rouen

The Impressionism trail recommended by the Seine-Maritime Official site, takes the visitor to four information panels. However en route, you will come across other Rouen gems. Take your time and enjoy the architecture, the cathedral and churches, the charming narrow streets and half-timbered houses. For more information, press here.

Sound and Light Show on the Rouen Cathedral
Every evening in the summer months: Sound and Light Show on the Facade of the Rouen Cathedral

Saint-Catherine Hill for Panoramic Views

Climb up Saint Catherine Hill to see the best views of Rouen (in French: Cote Sainte-Catherine). From here you will get the same viewpoint that Monet had when he painted this view in 1892.

Rouen’s Impressive Art Museum

If you love impressionism art, then you MUST visit Rouen’s Musée des Beaux-Arts ( The Museum of Fine Arts) . This art museum holds a wonderful collection of paintings. Here you will find paintings of Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley and others. For more details about the museum, press here.

The Charming Medieval Town of Rouen

Stroll around the old town of Rouen. Enjoy the gorgeous centuries-old half-timbered houses, charming cobbled-stone streets lined with shops, restaurants and cafes. In the summer months, there are lots of events and activities here.

For more information press here to see my article about Rouen. Also, check out Rouen’s website

Medieval Town of Rouen, France
Rouen Old Town – Image by Kirk Fisher from Pixabay 

Their is know better way to enjoy the towns on the Seine River than to take a boat tour.

A Day Trip Cruise on the Seine From Paris

From Paris, sail on the Seine to the places loved & immortalized by the impressionists of the 19th century. This day trip sails to the Ile des Impressionnistes, and its famous “Maison Fournaise”, a former restaurant very popular in its hey-day. This restaurant was painted by Renoir who immortalized it with his famous painting:  Luncheon of the Boating Party. Press here for details

Luncheon of the Boating Party - Famous Renoir painting
Auguste Renoir Painting –  Luncheon of the Boating Party

A Seven Day Cruise In the Footsteps of the Impressionists

Sail along the Seine River on a 7-day cruise through Northern France. This voyage starts in Paris, once the epicenter of Impressionism.  The cruise ends at the charming medieval French harbor of Honfleur. The journey will take you to the places loved and painted by the Impressionists. You will sail to the following places:

Château of Auvers-sur-Oise

  • Château of Auvers-sur-Oise
  • The Marmottan Museum
  • Giverny and see the house and gardens of Claude Monet
  • Rouen
  • Honfleur and the Alabaster Coast

For more details, press here

Sailing the River Seine Paris
Sailing the River Seine Paris – Photo by Sheila Sund (CC BY 2.0)