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Extended Travel: Rouen, France

Rouen Cathedral, Facade (Sunset), 1892-1894, Oil on canvas, Musée Marmottan, Paris

Rouen Cathedral, Facade (Sunset), 1892-1894, Oil on canvas, Musée Marmottan, Paris

With a history dating back before Julius Caesar to the Gauls, Rouen is a fascinating stop for those with time to escape Paris for a day. As the historic capital of the region of Normandy in northern France, Rouen was once one of the largest and more prosperous cities in all of Medieval Europe. It’s great 13th century cathedral is testament to the city’s place in France’s history and its importance to the religious world. It is also here that alleged christian visionary Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake in 1431.
But the most modern reason for Rouen’s claim to fame is that from 1892 to 1893, artist Claude Monet painted 31 works in his Rouen Cathedral series here. A series which features the famous gothic cathedral of Rouen throughout different times of the day; a study of light, capturing the intricate elements of the architectural masterpiece as the sun changed position.
All in all, the study took four years during which Monet worked and lived in the city on and off. In 1892, Monet took up a room across from the cathedral at 23 Place de la Cathedral and then in 1893, a second story room, again within sight of the cathedral at 18 Rue Grand-Pont. Once the preliminary paintings were created, in 1894 Monet rented studio spaces directly across the street from the cathedral and reworked his canvases, though many of the later canvases were finished in his studio in Giverny. In 1895, the public had their first glance at the work which consumed the artist; Monet chose 20 of the works for display in a Paris gallery exhibition which was met with great success. Pisarro and Cézanne even visited the exhibition and praised the series highly. Eight of these paintings were sold immediately and even today, they continue to be popular with the most recent sale of one of the works at auction for more than $24 million in 2000.

In the summer time, Rouen pays tribute to its most famous depicter with a light show projecting Monet’s works onto the facade of the cathedral after dark.
Monet is not the only painter to be inspired by the Rouen cathedral, Roy Lichtenstein as well created a series of pictures depicting its front facade and artist and art critic John Ruskin hailed the cathedral as an example of good architecture in his seminal book The Seven Lamps of Architecture.
Access: From Paris, Rouen is approximately an hour and a half’s drive north-west from the centre of the French capital. Trains depart Paris several times a day from the St Lazare Station. Travel time is about 1hr 15min.

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