Art lovers, pack your sketch pads and cameras! We’re taking you through Europe to places that inspired Western masterpieces. The most iconic paintings of all time were once just fleeting moments, scenes of everyday life caught by the eye of a skillful painter. Now, they are timeless works of art recognized all over the world. In history, nobody had thought to capture ordinary, passing sights as the Impressionists did. We’re lucky enough that some of these spots still exist, whether because of the artist’s reputation or because these places were iconic in their own right.
Le Jardin d’Eau dans le Maison et Jardins de Claude Monet
Cergy-Pontoise, France • Recommendation •
Claude Monet was at the forefront of Impressionism. His “Water Lilies” series spanned about 250 paintings inspired by his home garden. The Water Garden (“Le Jardin d’Eau”) is worth that many works of art—and more. Wisterias hang overhead, swaying in the breeze. The colorful blossoms and filtered sunlight reflect on the surface of the pond and its clusters of water lilies. These days, it’s a popular destination whether you’re a lover of art or nature. People are still taking their own pictures, trying to capture what Monet was able to with his canvas and oils.More details
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, one of the artists who saw the beginning of Impressionism, expressed the beauty of a bustling party at Le Moulin de Galette in Paris. He painted a sea of faces in motion with loose brush strokes and lively color, aptly named “Bal du Moulin de la Galette” (Dance at Le Moulin de Galette). It was so popular that Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec were also moved to paint their own scenes. The Moulin de Galette has survived as a restaurant, with its iconic wooden windmill jutting out on the hilly street corner. Bask in the spot’s nostalgic charm, while enjoying a plate of modern French cuisine.More details
From the top of a hill by the River Seine, Renoir also found inspiration from another restaurant, Maison Fournaise. It seems to be one of his favorites as the restaurant and the Fournaise family that owned it were subjects of his paintings on multiple occasions. In “Two Sisters (On a Terrace),” he framed a pair of young girls against blooming flowers and the shimmering river in the distance. Book a table on the terrace overlooking the river to enjoy a view of the calm river as many Parisians did all those years ago. They still carry on in tradition, so order from their Menu of the Day. Boats cut through the still waters and ducks waddle about the river bank in a quaint scene perfect enough to be in any painting.
3 Rue du Bac, Ile des Impressionnistes, Chatou, France
Île de la Grande Jatte
Argenteuil, France • Recommendation •
Georges Suerat seemed to be struck by the same inspiration when he painted “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” Through thousands of tiny dots, he rendered people sprawled on the green lawns, little children, and even rowers on the waters. The actual riverbanks have now been reinforced to prevent flooding and erosion, so the green lawns in the paintings can’t be found here anymore. However, hidden paths outlining the island bring you right by the water for a pleasant stroll. It may not be the same as in Suerat’s time, but it carries on in the spirit of his painting. A little tip: try to visit the very tip of the island, past the park, for an unrivaled view of the river.
Édouard Manet brings us back to the glamour of Parisian life while playing with the viewer’s perspective. He painted a barmaid at the Folies Bergère, a cabaret music hall, standing in front of a mirror. In the reflection, she is seen talking to a man. Her name was Suzon, and she actually did work at the venue. Claim your spot in one of the theater’s aging red seats, and enjoy after-show drinks from the very bar Manet painted. The Folies Bergère is an immovable part of Paris history, with the world’s biggest stars gracing its stage. Even with all the glamorous names that come to perform, it’s still an interesting point to note that Manet chose to pick a barmaid as his subject. The cosmopolitan crowd and glamorous interiors remain a backdrop, and it is a thought to drink to.More details
Henri Toulouse-Lautrec shines his painter’s spotlight on the bohemian crowd of the Moulin Rouge. The five men and women in the center of the painting, “At the Moulin Rouge,” were a part of the time’s art scene—photographers, a dancer, and a writer. The Moulin Rouge was a cabaret popular with artists. It was the 1890s equivalent of a seedy yet beloved nightclub. Dancers clad in rhinestones and feathers celebrate Paris’ history and culture in this one-of-a-kind show. Lautrec was a regular who painted the scenes, often inserting himself in with the crowd. You, too, can bring yourself into the art much like Lautrec painted.More details
When looking at the slightly haunting painting, “The Scream” by Edvard Munch, it’s hard to believe that the artist was inspired by a place on Earth—yet, he was. On the Valhallveien in Oslo, Norway, it is believed that the sharp turn overlooking the city below is the exact spot that Munch had in mind. In a survey of Edvard’s diary, scholars found an entry that revealed it all. Munch was walking one day as the sun was setting when he felt a wave of anxiety wash over him. He sensed an “infinite scream passing through nature” as the sky turned bright orange and blood red in the sunset.
Valhallveien, Oslo, Norway
No other artist seems to have the talent of turning personal pain into beautiful art as Vincent Van Gogh. “Starry Night” is perhaps the most recognizable painting in our culture today. It has been referenced in song, in film, and cartoon; but when Van Gogh painted it, he was not a commercially successful artist. He was in Saint Paul de Mesole Monastery in Saint-Remy de Provence, France, recovering from a breakdown he had in Arles. Slowly, it seemed he was healing, as the wardens allowed him to paint in the area. It was through this knowledge of the place and his imagination that “Starry Night” was born. Visitors now flock to his humble room in the quiet monastery to follow in the great artist’s footsteps.More details
Van Gogh began exploring painting night scenes in his explorations of the city. The “Cafe Terrace at Night” was painted a year before “Starry Night,” and is also hailed as one of his most recognizable works. The stark blues and yellow tones contrast with each other and bring the cafe to life. He expressed such deep emotion in a way that is admired to this day. Sip a cup of coffee al fresco on the sidewalk, much as he would have. Van Gogh was known to paint places that he frequented, especially cafés.More details
Église Notre-Dame de l'Assomption d'Auvers-sur-Oise
Cergy-Pontoise, France • Recommendation •
Lastly, we end our trek through the masterpieces at the Notre Dame l’Assomption. Vincent Van Gogh painted the church when he was staying in Auvers-sur-Oise. It was hailed as his most productive years, but ultimately, it was also where he committed suicide. Before that though, he painted the beautiful landscapes and this church. In a letter to his sister, he expressed an interest in the vivid colors of the church: the pure cobalt sky, the partly orange roof, and green plants in bloom. The church has a different charm in person, but it shows the creative mind that lies behind Van Gogh’s eyes.
Place de l'Eglise, Auvers-sur-Oise, France