It’s All Happening in Impressionist Normandy

It’s All Happening in Impressionist Normandy

The daring spirit of innovation of Impressionist painters is recaptured in Normandy, a seedbed of artistic creation then and now. The Normandie Impressionniste festival, running well into autumn this year, offers an exceptional celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Impressionist movement.

Rather than merely looking to the past, under the helm of Director Philippe Platel, this multidisciplinary event offers over 150 exhibitions, performances, and experiences that connect the revolutionary spirit of Impressionism with contemporary creation today. I am serving here just the tiniest appetiser of what I was privileged to experience in just a few hours in Rouen and Le Havre, to hopefully give you an idea of the incredible range of events on offer.

Symphony in White, No. 2- The Little White Girl 1864, James Abbott McNeill Whistler [detail] © Sylvia Edwards Davis

The festival’s anchor is the James Abbott McNeill Whistler exhibition at the Rouen Fine Arts Museum showcasing dozens of iconic works by the American trailblazer alongside major Impressionist contemporaries. This juxtaposition highlights Whistler’s signature style and his lasting influence on his peers.

James A Whistler Arrangement in grey and black n° 1, or The Artists’s Mother (1804-1881) © Photo RMN – Jean Schormans

The Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rouen hosts “David Hockney: Normandism” exploring the British artist’s unique perspective on Normandy landscapes, where he has resided for the past years armed with his brushes and an Ipad to immortalise his visceral connection with the region.

David Hockney “Giverny by DH” 2023 Acrylic on canvas, David Hockney © Jonathan Wilkinson

Another highlight is the “Cathedral of Light” show created by American multidisciplinary artist Robert Wilson, projected onto Rouen Cathedral throughout the summer. As you can imagine if you are familiar with Wilson’s work, the “Star and stone : A kind of love … some say” is not your average ligh-and-sound projection, it is a monumental art installation in its own right. In tribute to Monet’s famous Rouen Cathedral series, Wilson offers a fusion of visuals, music, poetry, and architecture, with text by Maya Angelou interpreted by Isabelle Huppert and Wilson himself, and music by Philip Glass.

“Star and stone : A kind of love … some say”, Rouen Cathedral © Robert Wilson

At the historic Jumièges Abbey ruins, Laurent Grasso’s “Cloud Theory” transports us through space and time. Grasso’s delicate neon apparitions create a mesmerising dialogue with the ancient architecture (don’t miss the projections detour in the lodge). This is the place to easily spend a couple of hours in quiet contemplation reclining in one of the lawn chairs thoughfully provided for that precise purpose.

Laurent Grasso’s Cloud Theory at the Jumieges Abbey ©Sylvia Edwards Davis 2024

How do you compete with Monet’s iconic Waterlilies? British artist Oliver Beer’s delicate work offers a unique perspective in homage to the Impressionist legacy. His work explores the intersection of sound, painting and sculpture, making the frequencies from an underwater soundtrack recorded at Giverny arrange their song of pigments on the canvas.

Oliver Beer, Resonance Paintings – Nymphéas © Sylvia Edwards Davis 2024

The MuMa Le Havre presents Photographing in Normandy (1840-1890), an impeccably curated show that leads you by the hand to discover the role of early photography as an experimental playground for painters. If you had to pick just one event from the whole programme, you won’t go wrong with this gem.

Gustave Le Gray Bateaux quittant le port du Havre, 1856-1857 Archives départementales du Finistère, en dépôt au MuMa, Le Havre,

There is so much more. Performing arts take centre stage with dance, music, and theatrical performances that reimagine Impressionism through a contemporary lense. The festival’s diverse program includes open-air concerts, site-specific live performances, and interdisciplinary collaborations that blur the boundaries between art forms.

At its core, the Normandie Impressionniste 2024 festival celebrates the innovative spirit that defined the movement. By blending historical works with way-out-there contemporary creation, the festival invites visitors to explore the enduring relevance of the Impressionists’ unflinching approach to art.

Festival Normandie Impressionniste
Until September 22 2024

Tip 👉 Normandy is easily reached by ferry and train (Rouen is just a quick 1h 25 min from Paris St Lazare)

Lead photo credit : Cathedral of Light, Rouen © Robert Wilson

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Sylvia Edwards Davis is a writer and correspondent based in France with a focus on business and culture. A member of the France Media editorial team, Sylvia scans the cultural landscape to bring you the most relevant highlights on current events, art exhibitions, museums and festivals.

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