Paris's Musée d'Orsay may have some of the most fabled Monet and Van Gogh paintings in the world, but the Ile-de-France has something (almost) better—the actual landscapes that were rendered into masterpieces by the brushes of many great Impressionist and Postimpressionist artists. At Giverny, Claude Monet's house and garden are a moving visual link to his finest daubs—its famous lily-pond garden gave rise to his legendary water-lilies series (some historians feel it was the other way around).
Nearby, villages like Vétheuil still look like three-dimensional "Monets." Here, too, is the impressive Musée des Impressionismes. In Auvers-sur-Oise, Vincent van Gogh had a final burst of creativity before ending his life; the famous wheat field where he was attacked by crows and painted his last painting is just outside town. Back then, they called him Fou-Roux (mad redhead) and derided his art. But now, more than a century after his passionate rendering of life and landscape, the townspeople here love to pay tribute to the man who helped make their village famous. André Derain lived in Chambourcy, Camille Pissarro in Pontoise, and Alfred Sisley in Moret-sur-Loing—all were inspired by the silvery sunlight that tumbles over these hills and towns.
Earlier, Rousseau, Millet, and Corot paved the way for Impressionism with their penchant for outdoor landscape painting in the village of Barbizon, still surrounded by its romantic, quietly dramatic forest. A trip to any of these towns will provide lasting impressions.
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