France: Rouen Cathedral according to Monet

“The older I get the more I realize that a lot of work has to be done to reproduce what I am looking for: the instantaneous. The influence of the atmosphere on things and the light scattered everywhere”

Claude Monet, 1891

Rouen is a city located 135 km northwest of Paris. Among the most important episodes in its history is the trial and death of Joan of Arc in 1431.

Do not expect to arrive and find the typical French medieval city, because the bombings of the Second World War took everything. but:

What remains of the historic center is little but very intense

Its gothic and medieval architecture and its half-timbering make it one of the great historic cities of Normandy. An example of this is the beautiful Rouen Cathedral, a true Gothic jewel. So much so that not even the great Claude Monet could resist his charms, which he painted in numerous paintings.

Leaving the cathedral, take Rue Saint Romain, which will take you directly into the heart of the historic center of Rouen.

City of a Hundred Bell Towers

Although it is far from the sea, the Seine has allowed its port to become one of the 5 most important in France. The river, the very long bridges and its dozens of bell towers -Victor Hugo baptized it the “ city of a hundred bell towers ”- make up the silhouette of Rouen.

What to see in Rouen

If you don’t have much time, set aside at least one morning to visit Rouen. Its main attractions are quite close to each other, concentrated in the old town.

Cathedral of Notre Dame

The classic starting point of a route through Rouen is the Notre-Dame Cathedral, built around 1200 in the Gothic style. When contemplating the two towers of its main façade, one understands why Monet portrayed it on so many occasions.

The interior is impressive due to its dimensions and its most beautiful element is the Gothic stone staircase. As a curiosity, it houses the “heart” of the famous King Richard I, “Lion Heart”.

To the east of the Cathedral (just 300 meters away) you should not miss the beautiful façade of the Church of Saint-Maclou, surrounded by picturesque half-timbered houses.

300 meters further north, we find another essential place, often confused with the cathedral due to its imposing dimensions: the Saint-Ouen Abbey.

Built between the 14th and 16th centuries, it stands out for being a beautiful example of Flamboyant Gothic and for its organ, from 1890. You can get a good view of the outside from the nearby Jardin de l’Hôtel-de-Ville.

The Great Astronomical Clock used to have a curious function: it warned if there was any altercation in the streets.

Read also: stroll through the gardens of the Rodin Museum is very cheap

Monet auz pixels

If you go to Rouen in the summer months, don’t miss the “Monet aux pixels” show that takes place every night on the main façade of the cathedral. They project, on it, various pixelated images (some are Monet’s paintings, others are not).

Read also: walk through the house and gardens painted by Monet

“The Climax of Impressionism”

This is how the series of views of Rouen Cathedral carried out by Claude Monet between 1892 and 1894 has been described. The series – consisting of 31 canvases showing the facade of the Gothic cathedral of Rouen under different light and weather conditions – caused an immediate admiration among the critics of his time, and was praised by many later masters.

Unable to represent each fleeting moment on a complete canvas, Monet sometimes worked simultaneously with several canvases, turning to one in particular each time the lighting and ambient conditions resembled those of the painting in question.

cathedral at sunset

Let us imagine for a moment the situation: Claude Monet, installed in front of a second floor window facing the Cathedral, working frantically with dozens of canvases, at the mercy of a passing cloud, a fleeting ray of sun, a morning mist to look for – if it existed – the painting on which he could focus.

Of course, such a task must have been exasperating, but Monet was not one to give up easily: “More than ever I abhor things that go well at the first try,” he had written while working on the haystacks at Giverny.

Monet even finished several of the canvases in his workshop, relying on his prodigious visual memory. But two years later the mission was accomplished, and Monet already had three dozen pictorial captures of the Cathedral.

For the first time in the history of painting, it had been possible to represent the fourth dimension, time, an achievement claimed by numerous avant-gardes several decades after the French master.

Rouen streets

Source for “the climax of impressionism”: