Seeing the world by way of art.
Have you ever seen a landscape of a town or city that makes you think, hey, that looks just like a painting? Well, it probably is a painting! Many artists have been inspired to immortalize the places where they live, work, and holiday on canvas. Here are just 25 of the most beautiful and inspiring artworks of towns and cities that look the same as they did when they were painted.
Impression, Sunrise, Claude Monet
WHERE: Le Havre, France
Although Claude Monet’s paintings of water lilies are among the most famous Impressionist artworks, the fabled painter actually founded the whole artistic movement itself with a piece called Impression, Sunrise. The painting, which depicts the port of Le Havre, was conceived in 1872 using loose brushstrokes and a dazzling array of colors that have become synonymous with the Impressionist movement.
Much of Le Havre’s architecture has changed from the time Monet painted Impression, Sunrise (the city was heavily bombed during World War II, and it was rebuilt in concrete), but the early-morning scene can still be seen by visitors who wake up with the sun and take a stroll near the port.
Just a few minutes away from the port is Hôtel Vent d’Ouest. Make sure to visit MuMa (Fine Arts Museum André Malraux), which houses the most important collection of Impressionist paintings in France after Musee d’Orsay in Paris, and stop for a seafood dinner at Le Grignot.
Yui, Hiroshige Utagawa
WHERE: Shizuoka City, Japan
Japanese art history lovers are probably familiar with a set of landscape prints known as The Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido. Created by artist Hiroshige Utagawa in the 1800s, the works are classic examples of ukiyo-e woodblock prints. Yui is one of the few prints in the series to feature a view of Mount Fuji, and it depicts a mountain pass along the ocean in Japan’s Shizuoka Prefecture.
Today, visitors can see first editions of Hiroshige’s prints at the Shizuoka City Tokaido Hiroshige Museum, which I located along the same old Tokaido road referred to by the artist. Just as spectacular are the views of Mount Fuji, which remain unchanged from when the woodblocks were conceived.
Aside from the Shizuoka City Tokaido Hiroshige Museum, you’ll probably want to walk along Miho no Matsubara, a pine tree-lined beach with views of Mount Fuji. Also stop by Nihondaira, a plateau at the center of Shizuoka City with even more views of the mountain, the Izu Peninsula, Shimizu Port, and Suruga Bay. Speaking of the bay, try local seafood at Kinme-Tei, conveniently located next to the Shimoda Fish Market.
Wheat Field with Crows, Vincent van Vogh
WHERE: Auvers-sur-Oise, France
Located under 20 miles from Paris is the quaint village, Auvers-sur-Oise, where Vincent van Gogh spent his final days. There aren’t many sites in the village that escaped van Gogh’s artistic eye–he painted the town hall, the church, and even some of his friends’ gardens. For two months he stayed in (and depicted on canvas) a small room at the Auberge Ravoux, which is where he also died after shooting himself in a nearby wheat field, which he depicted in a painting with a murder of crows. The haunting painting is believed to be his last work.
Van Gogh is buried next to his brother in the village cemetery–just beyond his grave lies the field that he immortalized on canvas.
Stay at the Hotel des Iris, which features rooms replete with van Gogh-inspired wallpaper, stop by the Relais des Peintres for lunch, then follow the “Van Gogh” path that meanders through the village to the cemetery. Don’t miss a stop at Auberge Ravoux to learn more about the artist and to see the room where he took his final breath.
The Scream, Edvard Munch
WHERE: Oslo, Norway
Most people can easily recognize the agonized character in Edvard Munch’s Expressionist masterpiece, The Scream, but they can’t pinpoint the location of the scenery behind him. To find the same view today, someone would need to wander high above the city of Oslo and from there, along a pathway, look down at the city and fjord below.
Only ten minutes away from Oslo’s city center is the Thon Munch Hotel, located near Trinity Church and the Royal Palace. Make sure to wander through the neighborhood, Grünerløkka, which was Munch’s old stomping ground.
Ibadan, Abiodun Olaku
WHERE: Ibadan, Nigeria
Abiodun Olaku’s detailed oil landscapes depict a love affair with Nigerian cities. Using a soft palette, his cityscapes appear almost as if they were floating in a fog. Olaku’s painting Idaban, gives a bird’s eye perspective of a town that came into existence in the early 1800s as a military state, but is today one of the most populous cities in Nigeria.
Olaku perfectly captures the spirit of Ibadan’s important commercial center, and visitors to the city will be able to recognize his work in various landmarks and markets.
Black Mesa Landscape, Georgia O'Keeffe
WHERE: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
Black Mesa rises high above the floodplain at the border of Oklahoma, Colorado, and New Mexico. Artist Georgia O’Keeffe, who spent decades in New Mexico, was inspired by the mesa, painting it over a dozen times over two years. Today, visitors to the tri-state area can hike, camp, and take tours to visit the site, which looks just like it did during when O’Keeffe painted this work in 1930.
After visiting Black Mesa, drive just 22 miles south to Santa Fe, where the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is located. There, the artist’s painting, Black Mesa, hangs on the wall, a reflection of the desert-scape outside.
St. Kilda Boreray from Soay, Norman Ackroyd
WHERE: Shetland Isles, Scotland
Contemporary artist Norman Ackroyd paints some of the most remote corners of Britain, including Scotland’s Shetland Islands. One of the artist’s favorite locations is the St. Kilda archipelago, which he paints in all its rugged, craggy glory from fishing boats he hires to take him out for the day.
St. Kilda hasn’t been inhabited since its inhabitants were evacuated in 1930 (due to illness brought on by tourism), and the only thing that today’s visitors to the islands will ever see change is the weather.
St. Kilda isn’t the easiest place to visit. It’s possible to hire a small boat (à la Ackroyd), but it’s easier to take an expedition cruise with an outfitter like Adventure Canada.
The Beach, Eugene Boudin
WHERE: Deauville, France
Corot called his fellow painter Eugène Louis Boudin the “king of the skies,” and it’s easy to see why in Boudin’s 1893 painting, The Beach. Boudin painted the Channel waters off his home in the Norman city of Deauville many times, and his sky and sea studies marked his great interest in changing weather conditions.
The closest seaside resort to Paris, Deauville is known for its Grand Casino, American Film Festival, and its long stretch of beach, which in real life looks just like a snapshot of Boudin’s painting (or is it the other way around?).
Although Deauville is pricy (it is, after all, called the Parisian Riviera), there are still affordable places to dine and rest your head. Stay at Le Trophee, just a several minutes walk from the beach and have a lovely meal with locals and movie stars alike at Restaurant La Flambée.
Market Lane, Ablade Glover
WHERE: Accra, Ghana
Ablade Glover’s dynamic, colorful paintings have been compared to the patterns used in Kente cloth, which is a type of hand-woven fabric first made by the Ashanti people in the 17th century. Glover’s painting, Market Lane, mirrors the movement and vibrancy found in Accra’s bustling markets, and his use of color weaves in his Ghanaian history.
The Ghanaian art scene is vibrant, and more galleries are opening than ever before. Yet even if you don’t visit one of the galleries, just a glimpse at Glover’s canvas offers an artistic glimpse at Ghana’s largest city.
Visit the Nubuku Foundation to see exhibitions and to hear artists’ talks, and spend some time at the Artists Alliance Gallery, a renowned arts venue established by none other than Ablade Glover.
Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, Frida Kahlo
WHERE: Mexico City, Mexico
Frida Kahlo was born and also died in her home, Casa Azul, located in Mexico City. After suffering a tragic accident as a teenager, Kahlo was often housebound, but that didn’t prevent her from becoming one of the most emblematic Mexican artists in the world.
Kahlo wasn’t a landscape painter, yet the landscape of her life is displayed widely across Mexico City–many of the local museums display her art, including Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, and likeness, and her colorful, surreal style of painting is imitated by street artists and fine art painters alike.
Bord de Mer II, Paul Gauguin
WHERE: Fort-de-France, Martinique
In 1887, Post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin went from France to the Caribbean island of Martinique, where he painted 17 works of art. Gauguin depicted an idealized (and often problematic) vision of island life–he portrayed women carrying fruit, women on plantations, and women, well, just about everywhere. Yet he also captured the beauty of the Caribbean Sea, and his use of saturated color in paintings like Bord de Mer II are similar to the true, vibrant colors displayed by nature on Martinique.
The Grand Canal of Venice, Edouard Manet
WHERE: Venice, Italy
Venice, Italy conjures visions of canals and gondolas, both of which are featured prominently in artist Edouard Manet’s painting, The Grand Canal of Venice. Rather than focus on any of the city’s famous architecture or landmarks, the artist used a blue palate to capture the way the light reflected off the water in the canal.
One of the most important water corridors in Venice, the Grand Canal cuts a path from north to south and is still lined today with buildings Manet would have seen over 100 years ago–some of the buildings are from the 13th century.
Venice is a city for walkers–therefore, be prepared to meander along the canals to take in the famous palazzos that used to house noble Venetian families, as well as St. Mark’s Square, the Rialto Bridge, and yes, the Grand Canal itself.
Christina's World, Andrew Wyeth
WHERE: Cushing, Maine, USA
Christina’s World is one of the most recognizable paintings of the 20th century, but few people seem to know that it depicts a scene in Cushing, Maine (just 75 miles southwest of Bangor). The painting depicts a woman living with degenerative nerve disease, who artist Andrew Wyeth noticed one day as she was crawling across a field.
The house depicted in the painting, the Olson House, is operated by the nearby Farnsworth Art Museum. Both of these sites can be visited today, and the landscape is nearly identical to what Wyeth saw over half a century ago.
The Farnsworth Art Museum doesn’t just hold Andrew Wyeth’s art–it also contains the art of his father (N.C. Wyeth) and son (Jamie Wyeth).
View of the Colosseum, Giovanni Paolo Panini
WHERE: Rome, Italy
Giovanni Paolo Panini was an 18th-century painter and architect who was known as one of the vedutisti, or view painters. Panini lived and worked in Rome, and captured many of the city’s ancient ruins, such as the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilia, and the Colosseum.
Although Panini’s painting of Colosseum is more than a little fanciful (he painted many other monuments and works of art from antiquity into the landscape), visitors today will have no problem recognizing the iconic landmark.
A single ticket via the Parc Archelogico del Colosseo allows visitors entrance to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Palantino, a handful of other sites, and two museums (the Palantine Museum and the Colosseum Museum).
American Gothic, Grant Wood
WHERE: Eldon, Iowa, USA
Grant Wood’s painting, American Gothic, epitomizes the Midwest. In his realistic style, Wood painted a farmer standing with his pitchfork alongside his daughter–a duo that has been parodied in Broadway shows, T.V. shows, photography, marketing campaigns, and even Halloween costumes.
It’s the house in the background, however, that is perhaps the most interesting part of the artwork. The house, known as both the American Gothic House and the Dibble House, clearly depicts a pretty spectacular Gothic-style window in a modest, wooden-framed home. The house is unchanged from when Wood painted it in 1930.
Want to take a photo of yourself in front of the house Wood immortalized? Then stop by the American Gothic House and Center, smack dab in the middle of Eldon, Iowa. Stay for the night at Hotel Ottumwa, located just 12 miles away in the town of Ottumwa.
Water Lilies, Claude Monet
WHERE: Giverny, France
Claude Monet lived in the idyllic town of Giverny for 43 years. During that period, he created many acres of gardens–including a water garden that inspired his famous series of over 250 paintings of waterlilies. Fascinated by the way light and shadows changed the appearance of the surface of water, his paintings were a study of more than just objects and landscape, but also the atmosphere.
Getting to Giverny from Paris requires taking a brief 45-minute ride on a train from Paris. Although the town is typically flocked with tourists, visitors can often find a quiet moment to reflect on Monet and his work by visiting the small vault where his family is buried in the village churchyard.
Nothing New Under the Sun, Amy Bennett
WHERE: Chelsea, Maine, USA
If Amy Bennett’s paintings remind you of scale models of neighborhoods, that’s because she takes her inspiration from such miniature worlds. Yet her paintings also offer a slice of small-town American life – the long winters she spent during her childhood in Chelsea, Maine (with a population of under 3,000 people) inspired her isolated, bird’s eye scenes from daily life.
Although the town in Bennet’s painting, Nothing New Under the Sun, doesn’t exist in real life, it almost perfectly embodies the spirit of small-town Maine.
Chelsea has been given the moniker, “Gateway to the Capital,” as it sits just 13 miles from Augusta. The Togus Stream runs into Chelsea, and the area boasts plenty of wildlife, including bald eagles and osprey. Stay just a few miles away at the colonial-style Second Street Bed and Breakfast and spend a long weekend hiking, biking, and wandering through a string of small towns.
View of Toledo, El Greco
WHERE: Toledo, Spain
Although landscape paintings often document how a place looks in the particular time it was painted, artist El Greco took a different approach with his rendering of the Spanish city of Toledo. While the location of the city’s Castle of San Servando (on the left) is accurately depicted, other landmarks have been moved.
Despite the artist taking some liberties, visitors to Toledo may recognize not only some of the landmarks but the overall feeling that El Greco believed the city cast off–dark and somber.
Despite El Greco’s dark mood, Toledo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has a lot of fun things to offer. Visit the impressive Gothic Toledo Cathedral, the Alcázar fortress, as well as medieval stone bridges like the Puerta de Alfonso.
Hyde Park, Camille Pissarro
WHERE: London, UK
Is there anything more British than taking a stroll through one of London’s four great Royal Parks? The largest of them all is Hyde Park, which was established by Henry VIII in 1536. In the 1700s, a recreational lake, the Serpentine, was created in the park. It was along the bank of this lake that artist Camille Pissarro painted one of the park’s wide footpaths beneath the changing autumn foliage.
Pissarro painted Hyde Park in 1890, but visitors to the park during the autumnal months will find that the footpath is unchanged in the 21st century.
Rouen Cathedral Full Sunlight, Claude Monet
WHERE: Rouen, France
Like many French cities, Rouen’s cathedral stands at its center. Unlike other cathedrals, it was immortalized in a series of more than 30 paintings by Impressionist painter Claude Monet. Each painting captures the way light falls on the façade of the cathedral at different times of the day – during the morning, in grey weather, on a full day, or, like this painting, in full sunlight.
Every few years, the Normandy region hosts the Normandy Impressionist Festival (it runs from April through early September in 2020). Rouen is one of the many great French cities at the center of this festival, and it offers various shows and exhibits that highlight the best of Impressionist art.
The Rouen Museum of Fine Art holds a large collection of Impressionist art. If you’re lucky enough to be in France during the Normandy Impressionist Festival, you’ll want to make sure to look up the schedule of activities and exhibitions.
New York City 1, Piet Mondrian
WHERE: New York, NY, USA
Although Piet Mondrian was a Dutch artist, he’s perhaps best known for a series of work he painted in the Big Apple. The first painting in the series, New York City 1, is abstract, with interwoven bands of primary colors resembling the streets making up the city’s grid. Although the work doesn’t look identical to New York City, the colors and vibrancy are reminiscent of the city’s energy.
Today, New York City 1 is housed in Paris’s Centre Pompidou, but visitors to New York can stop by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) to see some of Mondrian’s other city-inspired work, including Broadway Boogie Woogie.
Mondrian was inspired by jazz music, which he often listened to in Greenwich Village. Blue Note Jazz Club, Smalls Jazz Club, the 55 Bar, Zinc Club, Birdland, and Fat Cat Music are all places that play a lot of the same music that inspired the artist’s work.
Rue Basse Terre en Tan Lontan, Catherine Belleville
WHERE: Basse Terre, Guadeloupe
Women in sun hats, cotton dresses, wooden homes with doors that open to the sun-bathed streets – these are just a few of the many things that are found on the islands of Guadeloupe, and they are all things contemporary artist Catherine Belleville painted across her canvas, Rue Basse Terre en Tan Lontan.
To feel like you’re walking inside of Belleville’s painting, all you need to do is head to Guadeloupe’s capital, Basse Terre, meander through the streets, and take in the view of the azure Caribbean Sea.
Starting this year (lucky us!), JetBlue offers direct flights to Guadeloupe from the U.S. While you’re in Basse Terre, stop at a local rum distillery (Distillerie Bologne) and the historic Fort Delgrès.
Avenue at Chantilly, Cezanne
WHERE: Chantilly, France
Chantilly is much, much more than just a pretty face–it’s also where Paul Cézanne, one of the world’s greatest landscape artists, painted his work, Avenue at Chantilly. The artist spent the summer of 1888 living and working in Chantilly, where he painted three paintings of the parks and forests surrounding the town’s famous castle.
An Impressionist painter, Cézanne used organized patches of warm ochre, grey, and green to give art aficionados the feeling that they’re looking directly at the dappled light and shadows on the trees – a very similar view to what visitors to Chantilly see today.
Take the train to Chantilly directly from Paris, then head directly to the Domaine de Chantilly (a less-crowded alternative to Versailles). Take in the art at the Musée Condé, stop by the Grandes Ecuries (Great Stables), and then spend an hour or three strolling along the avenues that run through the 19,000-acre estate.
The Harvesters, Pieter Bruegel the Elder
WHERE: Antwerp, Belgium
The Harvesters is one of six panels painted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder for a wealthy merchant living in Antwerp. The painting depicts harvest time in late summer and is often referred to as the world’s first modern landscape. Whereas most painters of the time portrayed religious scenes and iconography, Bruegel the Elder instead painted rolling countryside and people living in the working class.
Drive through the countryside just beyond Antwerp in late summer, and you’ll see a landscape similar to the one portrayed by Bruegel the Elder in The Harvesters.
Spend an afternoon at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp to see a collection of art from the 14th to the 20th centuries. A beautiful port city, Antwerp’s Old Town also shouldn’t be missed.
Scene on a Navigable River, John Constable
WHERE: Flatford, UK
Built in 1733, the Flatford Mill was owned by the artist John Constable’s father. Constable spent his childhood exploring the countryside, and he painted painting this landscape of the mill and surrounding English landscape just a few months before his marriage in 1816.
Visitors to East Bergholt, in the county of Suffolk, will be pleased to see that the mill (which rests far in the background) looks identical to how it was portrayed in Constable’s painting.
East Bergholt is known as “Constable Country.” In addition to the old mill, visitors can visit the 15th-century churchyard where Constable’s parents are buried before venturing inside to see a memorial for the artist’s beloved wife and a stained glass window in memory of the artist himself.