Fresselines and the Colors of the Creuse

This is NOT a Monet painting. It is an actual photograph I took today along the "Petite Creuse" River in Fresselines, France, where Monet painted 25 canvasses from March 7 to May 19,1889.

I didn't do anything to the camera or the picture.  This is just what this incredible place LOOKS like, and why it has been inspirational for so many artists and writers for more than a hundred years.  It is about the light (and, I suppose, its interaction with the lens, be that lens on a camera or in an eye) -- that produces inexplicable colors, shapes and shadows.

I have written previously about the "Valley of the Painters" in which I live. Today was a "ballade" -- an historical, artistic and literary walk led by Fresselines poet Christine Guilleaud, owner of L'Oeil et la Main gallery and adjacent chambre d'hôte (B&B).  Using historical research, letters, stories told by locals, and her own poetry (a volume of which I now own), Christine offers a full-day experience (including lunch) that provides an in-depth exposure to the celebrated poet and writer Maurice Rollinat, who lived his last years in Fresselines, and the celebrated "father of impressionism" artist, Claude Monet, whom Rollinat convinced to come to Fresselines and paint.

During his almost three-month stay, Monet battled the elements of a cruel spring that kept changing his light,challenged his physical and mental well-being, and often forced him off the hill, away from his subject -- the confluence (or meeting) of the Creuse and Petite Creuse rivers.  Ultimately, he produced a series called "Les Eaux Semblantes", the pieces of which are mostly now in U.S. museum or private collections.

Enough said.  Here are just some of my pictures from today.  Enjoy!

We met at Christine's gallery, catty-corner across from the now private home but was the
auberge (inn) where Monet stayed...  The morning was going to focus on Monet, while the afternoon, on Rollinat.

The path leading down from the village down to the rivers is right next to Christine and Jean-Luc's B&B...

White cows on seasonally changing landscape, down to rivers
En route down to the rivers, view of Chateau de Puy Guillon
The seasonal colors are changing...

Our guide, Christine, reading her own poem about going down to the rivers

This and next two shots, approaching the Creuse.  Notice how more water appears.
Notice the pinks and turquoises at about 10:30 a.m.!

Now walking along the Creuse, on the right of the photo,but on our left as we were walking down the path.

At last we arrive at the famous "confluence" of the Creuse on the left, and the Petite Creuse on the right. 
In 1889 when Monet painted this scene, there was NO VEGETATION, and the rather bulbous form on the left was just rock -- in the shape of what locals dubbed "Voltaire's head".   And when HE painted it (from a higher vantage point than where I was), it looked like this (this is one of a series):

The famous solitary tree (a chêne, or oak) that he painted in this locale (see painting below) is believed to have actually been at a slightly different point along the Petite Creuse, not far from the confluence, but not at it.  It's not there anymore, which is interesting because I have a more contemporary painting of this scene by a local painter (unknown to me) which shows a  tree on the artist's left.  This oak has become mythical, I think -- especially since the story is Monet paid for the inn owner to hire workers to strip the tree of its leaves as spring advanced!

I took a LOT of photos along the Petite Creuse, but here are just a few...

This is a favorite spot of Christine's -- the tree standing by itself, where a mill used to be.
She read us her poem about the tree, which "takes everything" -- except the river.

We continued our walk down to poet Maurice Rollinat's first house, then back up to the road and back into the village for a wonderful lunch in the B&B salle à manger (dining room); our hosts,Christine and her husband, Jean-Luc, are on the left of this photo.  The wine (Reuilly) was local, and excellent.

I thought lunch was just the cold stacked crepes and salad; turns out we were of course having a FRENCH lunch, which meant that that was only the starter (entrée) -- followed by the "plat" (main course) of two different kinds of fish and rice with vegetables; then fromage (cheese);  then dessert, then coffee.
In addition to what she had already told us about Maurice Rollinat earlier -- it was because of him that Monet had come to Fresselines -- Christine told us more and read from his writings while we sat in the little park across from his house. .  She's is rather unhappy that Rollinat is known more for his children's writings, than for those for adults -- dark and macabre though they are!
A bust of Rollinat (who was known to be quite a handsome man, though of fragile disposition) is in a little park across from
the house where he lived during his final years...

During his stay in Fresselines, Monet spent convivial and intellectually engaging 
evenings in this house -- with Rollinat, his young mistress, and a variety of interesting guests.  Monet's wife,
though, was jealous of Rollinat's companion, which may have been one of the reasons he finally left Fresselines and never went back!  The house has been enlarged and there is now a road where there once was a swamp.
This is what the house looked like back in the day:

Back to the center of the village, past some charming houses and street garden spots... the small but exquisite church that is another masterpiece painted in light (and where I heard a harp concert a couple of months ago).

Last stop: in front of the "bas relief" of Rollinat on his death bed, "accompanied" by an unknown woman (his wife?  mother?  companion?)...sculpted by another of his artist good friends -- yep, Rodin!

A la prochaine --


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