A Winter View of the Musée Fournaise
The Musée Fournaise - as old as itself.
Modest Museum Features Little-Known Impressionists
Chatou:- Thursday, 25. February 1999:- The weather is brilliant after the somber overcast of yesterday in Paris. Perfect for school holidays, perfect for dropping the kids off to stay with classmates for the day in Bougival.
Doing this gives me glimpses of the Seine from Port Marly, along its south bank. At Bougival, we take the bridge over to the island and take the first right. Once the kids are delivered, I walk the few steps over to the river, to see the degree of flood threat.
The Seine is full but placid. Looking downriver, it is wide and drowsy-looking. Road traffic from the RN 13 on the other side is muted and except for a garbage crew loading a truck, there is no one around and nothing moving on the river except a few birds, against the background of the leafless hills rising up to Louveciennes.
This makes me think of the Impressionists. They were around here; to paint and to have their Sunday picnics. This is what makes me take the rest of the bridge over to Croissy, instead of going back and getting the train to Paris.
I miss the turn to the north bank on the Ile de Bougival, and this is how I arrive in Croissy-sur-Seine. If I had planned this in advance, I would have seen that the Bougival island continues upstream, and becomes the Ile de Chatou. Instead, in Croissy, I chance on Vieux Croissy.
If I had managed to stay on the Ile de Bougival, I would have eventually come to La Grenouillère. I had the idea it was in Vieux Croissy though.Josephine's church in Croissy, opposite the museum.
I park by La Prieure church and go across the road to a building with a library sign outside. Inside I find the library is not yet open and a museum in the same building is closed too. Outside, a sign says something about Josephine having stayed here when it was a residence; possibly the Chateau Chanorier.
Beside the church there is a municipal park and I go look at the river from it. A big freight-barge goes by, pushing upstream, and I do not realize La Grenouillère must be directly opposite; not seen because it behind a screen of leafless trees on the shady side of the island.
In Croissy, most roads go to Chatou and most of the times I try them I get lost. This time I find myself at the RER station near the marché, and a lucky choice takes me to the Pont de Chatou - which is not far.
In the middle of the bridge I turn off, back to the island. Here its name has been changed to Ile des Impressionistes and the south part is a natural park. This is beyond the foire buildings where the antique sales are held, and La Grenouillère is further on down.
By turning sharply and looping under the bridge, I come immediately to the restaurant and Musée Fournaise. This restaurant is the one painted by Auguste Renoir in 1881, called 'Le Déjeuner des Canotiers,' which is in the Phillips Gallery in Washington.Fournaise' restaurant on the 'Ile des Impressionistes,' with Renoir painting outside.
With the winter trees it does not look so summery as in the painting; but with the sun dead ahead throwing everything into shadow, it is somewhat 'impressionistic.' Upstairs in the restaurant, the staff are eating a big lunch before the noon trade starts and I am directed to the museum; out and around the other side.
The Musée Fournaise looks deserted but is open. Inside it is not big, but it is comfortable. Anne Galloyer tells me most of the paintings are copies; the Musée d'Orsay and other big museums around the world have the originals.
But there are many posters and photos and other mementos, and with the informality it is easy to sense that the painters were here - and not merely 'passing through' as they would have been at Orsay when it was a train station.
"J'ai toujours fourré chez Fournaise. J'y trouvais autant de superbes filles à peindre que je pouvais en désirer," Renoir said.
This was pretty much what attracted Monet, Sisley, Caillebotte, Morisot and Vlaminck, as well as the writers Flaubert and Maupassant, to the area of riverside cafés and bathing spots dotted along this placid stretch of the Seine.
The island of Bougival-Chatou was created in Louis XIV's time, as part of the waterworks for the Marly Machine - the incredible system of pumps that lifted the Seine's water up to the reservoirs at Louveciennes, for Louis' Château in Marly and his other place in Versailles. From this start, the EDF still has a research and development unit on the island's northern end.
While I talk to Anne Galloyer this seemingly deserted museum attracts a steady stream of visitors. Perhaps they are taking a quick look before lunching in the restaurant, but when I leave there are no cars in the parking area. The visitors must have walked up from the RER station to Chatou and the bridge; it is a nice enough day for it.
Not everything in the museum is a copy however. As a small museum, it can feature lesser-known artists. The current exhibition shows some of the paintings by Emmanuel de la Villéon. Apparently he was not as companionable as his contemporaries, but he was an impressionist down to his toes.
Many of the 60 paintings on show have been loaned to the Musée Fournaise by the Ville de Fougères; where Emmanuel de la Villéon was born in 1858 and has the museum named after him. They present his views of the 'four seasons.' A winter example is entitled, 'Neige, dans l'Ile de la Jatte,' which in the Seine near Neuilly and Levallois.
Even though a loner, he was impressed by the 'salons of the independents' at the turn of the century, but in the end he never fully adopted styles far from his origins.
The Musée Fournaise is a highly rewarding but apparently modest beginning to the 'Route des Impressionistes,' which follows the Seine to the nearby La Grenouillère - within walking distance - and then to Port Marly. Further along, the Seine takes a loop to the west, and this is a jumping off spot to Auvers-sur-Oise.
Exhibition Emmanuel de la Villéon, until Sunday, 14. March.
Musée Fournaise, Ile des Impressionistes, 78400 Chatou. RER 'A:' stations Rueil-Malmaison or Chatou-Croissy. Open Thursday and Friday from 11:00 to 17:00 and on Saturday and Sunday, from 11:00 to 18:00. Groups can make reservations for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesdays. Entry: 25 francs. Info. Tel.: 01 34 80 63 22.
Entry is free on Sunday, 14. March, as a replacement for the free entries offered by the Journées des Musées en Yvelines. The Musée Fournaise will be closed from 15. March until 7. April.
Beside the museum there is also the Centre National de l'Estampe et de l'Art Imprimé, located in the former Restaurant Levanneur. André Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck worked here at the turn of the century. It is possible the 'Fauve Revolution,' shown at the Salon d'Automne in 1905, was prepared here.Postcard©Musée Fournaise
On Thursday, 8. April, a long exhibition of the works of Pierre Prins will begin. For the first time, this 'friend of Manet' will have a solo show, featuring 70 to 80 pastels and paintings, mostly from private collections. Heavily influenced by Corot and Daubigny, Prins was already too much of a landscape artist - he 'painted with his face in the sun or by the light of the full moon.' Until 31. October.
There will also be a 'Fête des Impressionistes' in Chatou in June, but I do not have the dates for this event.
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