The kings and nobility of France loved to escape the confines of Paris to hunt or pursue other leisure activities. They found that the surrounding area, Ile-de-France, was perfect for these getaways. Beginning in the Renaissance, they commissioned some of the nation’s most celebrated chateaux here, many of them originally built as hunting lodges. And, just like the ruling class of earlier eras, 19th-century artists were drawn to the area for its natural beauty and proximity to Paris, the center of the art world.
Art historian Janetta Rebold Benton surveys some of the most beautiful estates and lushest gardens of the Ile-de-France, discussing both those who lived there in opulence and those whose goal was to capture the region’s beauty in their art.
10–11 a.m. Ecouen, Chantilly, Fontainebleau: François Ier and the Renaissance
The mid-16th-century château of Ecouen, built for Anne de Montmorency, remains remarkably well preserved, with sculpted fireplaces, tapestries, and stained glass windows. The château of Chantilly, with an unusual triangular plan, houses the Musée Condé with its noted art collection. The decoration of Fontainebleau, home to the kings of France from Louis VII onward, introduced the mannerist style from Italy to France.
11:15 a.m.–12:15 p.m. Vaux-le-Vicomte, Versailles, Malmaison: Louis XIV and the Baroque, Napoleon and Neoclassicism
The lavish parties held at the luxurious 17th-century château of Vaux-le-Vicomte led to the downfall of its builder, Nicolas Fouquet. Louis XIV, hardly to be outdone in anything, hired the creators of Vaux-le-Vicomte to work for him at Versailles. The Hall of Mirrors in this sumptuously decorated palace represents the ultimate in royal opulence, as does its vast gardens with trees and plantings meticulously sculpted into geometric shapes. In the 18th century, Napoleon’s wife, Josephine, embellished the grounds of their château of Malmaison with special attention to the cultivation of a vast variety of roses.
12:15–1:15 p.m. French-inspired Lunch
1:15–2:15 p.m. Painters in the Paris Suburbs: Romanticism, Realism, and Impressionism
The beauty of the forest of Fontainebleau inspired the artists of the Barbizon school of painting, including Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Théodore Rousseau, and Jean-François Millet. In nearby Thomery, the realist Rosa Bonheur depicted a wide variety of animals, domestic and exotic—-including their temperaments—with striking accuracy. Impressionist Camille Pissarro painted the picturesque landscape and river at Pontoise, just northwest of Paris. Argenteuil, another northwestern suburban village, was home to Claude Monet and other painters.
2:15–2:45 p.m. Enjoy a glass of French wine
2:45–4 p.m. Artists in Ile-de-France: Impressionism and Post-Impressionism
Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir favored the island of Châtou, the location of the Maison Fournaise restaurant, the setting for some of his most famous paintings. Vincent van Gogh’s life ended tragically in the Auberge Ravoux in Auvers, northwest of Paris. Georges Seurat, working in the pointillist technique, preferred the island of La Grande Jatte. Although both van Gogh and Seurat are considered post-impressionists, their styles of painting, personalities, and life stories are widely different.
World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1 credit
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