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Painting in Limousin – Monet was here!

Barbara Walton

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Limousin is deservedly celebrated by those who know it for its marvellous landscape, its castles and lakes, wonderful traditional cuisine and its abundant wildlife. You might even have heard of Limousin beef cattle and Limoges fine porcelain, but Limousin’s link to the arts is much less well advertised partly because this region is really the last area of France to be ‘discovered’ and it has been labelled ‘Hidden France’.

Where is Limousin?
Limousin is situated just south west of the middle of France, between the Loire Valley and the Dordogne. To the east the Limousin is bordered by the Aurvergne. It is comprised of three departements, Haute-Vienne, Creuse and Correzze with Limoges as capital and Saint Junien the second town, both located in Haute-Vienne.

In the beginning
Of course there would have been art in Limousin for as long as there have been settlers. There are cave paintings, Roman remains, beautiful buildings, stained glass, enamels, sculpture, porcelain, tapestries and religious paintings from the start, but in this short article I am going to outline a few of the connections with the impressionist movement and art today.

John Constable at the Paris Salon
In 1824 the English landscape painter, John Constable, exhibited several paintings at the Paris Salon and these came as a revelation to the young French artists. Constable turned his back on the currently fashionable neoclassical tradition in favour of the humbler form of landscape painting. Instead of following set formulas, he went out into the countryside and painted directly from nature as can be seen in his cloud studies, famed for their fresh, loose style. His bright colours and new approach shocked the establishment and inspired the young French artists to follow his example.

The Barbizon School of Painters
The Barbizons, together with Constable and Turner, are some of the best known precursors of the Impressionists. They worked in the forests of Fonainbleu, just south of Paris, but what better place to see nature at her most raw and sublime than in the Creuse? In 1830 some of the Barbizon painters, together with other landscape artists, gathered together around the village of Crozant and by the turn of the century more than five hundred artists were working in this area. The School of Crozant, as it was called, was born and continued to be active until 1926. Painters were inspired by the romantic towers and castles, including the ruines of the Fortress of Crozant, which dominated a rugged and magnificent valley at the confluence of the rivers Creuse and the Sédelle. The Crozant artists included Theodore Rousseau, Allan Osterlind, Francis Picabia, Leon Detroy, and Armand Guillaumin but perhaps the most famous of all the artists working here was Claude Monet.

Claude Monet in Fresselines
Monet (1840 - 1926), one of the best known of the Impressionist movement, lived for three months in the village of Fresselines and, inspired by the landscape and light in the Creuse, painted his very first series of 23 paintings there in 1889.








Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1796-1875) chose to work in the softer, greener landscape of the lower lying Haute-Vienne. A generation before Monet, his was a more classical style yet again, his approach to painting cleared a path for the better know leaders of outdoor (or Plein air) painting. He worked on the verdant banks of the river Glane just outside Saint Junien, inspired by pretty trees and picturesque rocks. The area is still largely unchanged and unspoilt and is signed ‘Le site de Corot’.


Limoges, birthplace of Auguste Renoir

After Monet, perhaps the second most famous and well loved Impressionist painter was Auguste Renoir. He was born in the city of Limoges in 1841 and there are several of his works exhibited in the Museum de l’Evéché, next to Limoges cathedral. Art Today in Limousin The links with modern art have been fostered and supported by the authorities of Limousin and several outstanding centres of Modern art have been established in the region. The imposing 13th century Chateau of Rochechouart in the Haute-Vienne is now a centre of contemporary art and has several excellent exhibitions a year. It is also home to a permanent exhibition of the work by the Dada artist Raoul Hausmann. He was born 12 July 1886 in Vienna and moved to Limoges in 1944 seeking refuge from the Nazi regime. He remained in Limoges until he died 1st February 1971.




Chateau de Rochechouart

Each year during the summer the owners of the Chateau of Saint-Auvent, not far from Rochechouart, organises an interesting exhibition, often drawing on the work of young artists from abroad. On lake Vassivière Island there is an impressive Centre for Contemporary Art, and the island itself is a showpiece of modern sculpture. Other interesting exhibition spaces can be found in Limoges, Saint Mathieu, Eymoutiers and Meymac in the Correzze. It is this commitment to showing the best of modern art, to guarding its rich artistic history, the romance of its ancient monuments, the quality of light and the wildness of the landscape that make the Limousin an ideal destination for artists and art lovers today. Many artists and craftspeople have been drawn to this area for both the beauty and the tranquility of the Limousin and have set up studios and ateliers here, so those looking for art and painting holidays will be sure to find a course ideally suited to their needs and they will be able to experience this unique landscape much as Corot and Monet did over a century ago.




For the original article see Modern-Art-in-Limousin

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