The French Connection

When the letter came, I knew it was a chance of a lifetime: an invitation to study with internationally-renowned pastelist Elizabeth Mowry for a week in Giverny, France, the home of Monet’s famous garden.  I had very much enjoyed a week with Elizabeth in the Lot Valley in France several years ago, and so, despite the timing and finances being a stretch, I took a deep breath and told Elizabeth that I’d come!

First, I had a whirlwind tour of all the Impressionist paintings in Paris (the Louvre, the Musee D’Orsay, L’Orangerie, and the Marmaton) with four other women from the workshop (see the view--and so-called "second bathroom"-- from our Paris apartment,the Louvre, and a peek at the waterlily panels in L’Orangerie below).  My friend Lisa loved all the birds available at the market near Notre Dame, and we had great fun shopping for Parisian scarves and trinkets, once we mastered the Metro system. We enjoyed the many beautiful roses in Paris, the street musicians and puppeteers, crepes made on the street, and an unexpected meeting with old friends (see below)!

We also arranged a private visit with Isabel Roché of Henri Roché handmade pastels, where I and my travelling companions failed to exercise restraint in the face of so much temptation!

After four very packed days, we traveled through the countryside north and west of Paris to arrive at the village of Giverny, our home for the remaining time.

Our home for the week was a beautifully adapted old mill, Le Moulin des Chennevieres (above), where we shared quaint but comfortable rooms with evocative names such as “Poppy,” “Buttercup,” and “Sunflower.”  The mill, run by Stephanie and Gerard, provides wonderful food (breakfast on the terrace shown above!), and beautiful spaces to paint right on site, plus it is a mere 10 minute walk to Monet’s garden.

During the week, we had access to the garden five times, three of which were either before or after the regular tourist hours.  It was magnificent to actually experience firsthand the loveliness captured in so many famous paintings, and I took full advantage of each visit, taking hundreds of photos and working up a number of field studies for later development.

The village of Giverny itself is surprisingly uncrowded and charming given the daily onslaught  of tour busses, and we enjoyed seeing the tiny garden studio behind the Hotel Baudy, which the Baudy family built at the turn of the last century to host all the artists who followed Monet to their village—Cassatt, Robinson, and many others.

Another memorable Giverny experience was the viewing of a juried exhibition (Salon du Pastel) showcasing works by members of the French equivalent of Pastel Artists Canada, in which several of our friends from PSEC (Quebec) had works as well!  It was a delight to see the work of so many talented pastelists from another country, and some wonderful Canadian works as well.

I was especially intrigued by this pastel painting on what appeared to be plywood, with the support showing in almost half of the image--a novel approach!

One of the highlights, however, was the opportunity to paint in the poppy field behind the Impressionist Museum in the village, where local schoolchildren ran shrieking along the paths, bringing to life the famous Monet painting of Camille and Jean. An unforgettable sight, sound, and experience. Oh, and the food at the museum cafe was exquisite.

Day trips to nearby Vernon netted gorgeous veggies, beautiful clothes, and great table linens from the market, and glimpses of medieval churches with contemporary glass windows (replacing those lost in WW II bombing). Other than that, we whiled away the days finding new places to paint (and lounge beautifully!).

My time in France was well worth the cost and time—some experiences (and friends old and new) are priceless.