In Heartland of French Impressionism, Locals Miss Americans

The roses, dahlias and daisies are in full bloom at the home of 19th-century artist Claude Monet. So are colorfully clad tourists, posing for pictures in front of Monet’s iconic lily pond.But one popular perennial is absent: the Americans.The coronavirus pandemic has put on indefinite pause a century-plus pilgrimage here by U.S. artists and tourists — the leading foreign visitors to this heartland of impressionist painting. Instead, it is mostly the French who are flocking to Monet’s home and garden amid the ongoing pandemic, as they rediscover their heritage.With coronavirus cases soaring in parts of the United States, polls show many Europeans, including French, do not want American tourists entering their countries right now. Chances are remote at any rate, current European Union restrictions bar travelers from the United States, along with many other countries.But in this tiny Normandy village, nestled between rolling hills and the Seine River, the Americans are sorely missed.Nestled between rolling hills and the Seine River, Giverny has long been a hub for American tourists. (Photo: Lisa Bryant/VOA)Giverny is the region’s second most popular tourist attraction after Mont Saint-Michel island. And Americans are among the top foreigners flocking here — accounting for one-fifth of those visiting Monet’s home alone.“They love everything from Normandy, everything that’s local— the aperitifs, the digestifs,” said Gregory Laisney, director of the nearby La Musardiere restaurant, who estimates U.S. diners made up 40 percent of his clientele last year.“The Americans,” he added, “come here to discover France.”The French are backMany French are wandering through Giverny’s streets and Monet’s garden, revisiting old memories. With the coronavirus battering France’s economy and sparking fears of further infection, some 70 percent of its citizens are spending the summer in-country, according to government estimates.“It’s been 20 years since I was last at Monet’s house and I’m rediscovering the garden,” said Anne-Marie da Silva, from the Val d’Oise department north of Paris, sporting a mandatory mask as she admired the flowers.Anne-Marie da Silva snaps a photo of Monet’s garden. French tourists like herself are rediscovering their heritage this summer. (Photo: Lisa Bryant/VOA)It’s a sharp U-turn from normality. U.S. visitors have long been a fixture here, braving August crowds that French residents would normally shun.Indeed, Americans arrived shortly after Monet moved to this village in 1883. The founder of the impressionist movement, with his 1872 masterpiece “Impression, Sunrise”—of a red sun burning through fog at Le Havre port— gardened and painted here until his death.It didn’t take long for the American acolytes who had moved to Paris to study painting, to follow him. They joined an artists’ colony established in the village, extending their visits beyond the summer months—even though Monet reportedly soon tired of them.Only a few, including celebrated portrait artist John Singer Sargent and Willard Metcalf, were allowed to paint with Monet and visit his grounds.A photo of Claude Monet in his kitchen. (Photo: Lisa Bryant/VOA)Today, the French impressionist would likely be horrified to see the hordes making his home a must-see stop on their way to D-Day beaches or the French capital.Good clientsThat’s not so for abstract painter Chantal Lallemand, who exhibits her work from a small gallery down the street.“The Americans buy quite a lot of my paintings, especially the big ones,” said Lallemand, who has two shows booked for New York and Florida, pending the coronavirus’s trajectory.“They love impressionism,” she added, “but we also feel there’s an opening to modern art.”The U.S. imprint on Giverny has endured in other ways. Monet’s paintings hang in nearly a dozen major American museums.The impressionist museum in Giverny – formerly known as the American museum. (Photo: Lisa Bryant/VOA)In 1992, an American art museum was founded in Giverny. Seventeen years later, the facility morphed into an impressionist museum under French control.Work from American artists like John Leslie Breck still hangs there. These days, however, there are few fellow citizens to admire it, except for a smattering of expatriates.Indeed, EstrellaGiverny-based artist Chanal Lallemand sells a lot of her work to American clients – but not this year. (Photo: Lisa Bryant/VOA)Garcia from Madrid counted among the few foreigners touring the museum one recent afternoon.“We’re here because we weren’t able to see Monet’s house,” she said. “We’re returning home without having had a chance to see it.”Tourists check out opening hours at Claude Monet’s house, which reopened in June following France’s two-month coronavirus lockdown. (Photo: Lisa Bryant/VOA)