Mission Statement

This blog journals my quest of art, whether it is a piece of work that is inherent in nature or one created by artists known or unknown or that I created myself. During this search, I have come to appreciate the magnificence and generosity of God who in his infinite wisdom surrounded us with exquisiteness everyday...everywhere and inspired our human spirit to create beauty that feeds our bodies and souls. Come join me on my journey to find art through my travels and my own creative endeavors. Maraming salamat.

All rights to all posts and contents on this blog, including photos and artwork are reserved by jojo sabalvaro tan.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Impressionists in Honfleur

Ste. Catherine's Bell Tower in Honfleur
by jojo sabalvaro tan
from a page in watercolor journal
A year ago, I watched a show on PBS called Landscapes Through Time with David Dunlop. This show featured a major artist and explored important events, persons and  places in the artist's life that influenced his work. What makes the show more special than being a mere biographic is that  David Dunlop and his students demonstrate these influences at the exact location where the artist painted some of his or her most important works. The particular show I watched featured John Mallord William (J.M.W.) Turner, (1775-1851) an English landscape painter, watercolorist and printmaker, at the Harbor of Honfleur. I was so taken by the location that I knew I had to go there someday.

Honfleur: The Lieutenancy from the North-East, 
Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) - 
gouache and watercolor on paper
Lucky for me, someday arrived sooner than I thought. On a recent trip to Europe, we planned  to visit Mont Saint Michel in the northwestern region of France. It so happened that Honfleur was just a couple of hours away from Mont St. Michel so we scheduled an overnight stop there. Honfleur is in the Normandy region of France on the southern estuary of the Seine river which we crossed from Le Havre on the impressive sweeping Pont de Normandie, one of the longest cable-stayed bridges in the world. Honfleur is about 120 miles from Paris

We arrived at Honfleur just as dusk was setting in. There was a light mist threatening to turn into more of a drizzle. After we checked in and brought our luggage up to our room, we decided to walk down to the harbor or Vieux Bassin. The concierge at the hotel directed us just to follow the street outside down to the port. At the end of the street, even with the looming dark and mist, the old harbor opened up, so beautiful, it took my breath away. The slate-covered buildings were lit up and reflected on the still water, so did the boats and ships docked at the harbor.

Honfleur Harbor

Honfleur Harbor 

No wonder so many artists have painted this charming little hamlet. Honfleur, it turns out will be very familiar to many people because of the proliferation of postcards, greeting cards and prints of works of artists depicting it. And, if you have been to one of the major art museums, you have seen Honfleur.  The impressionists, in particular, came here and formed the ecole de Honfleur (Honfleur School) which contributed to the formation of the impressionist movement.  The concierge advised us not to eat at the many restaurants lining the harbor as the food was mediocre at best and quite expensive. But we could not ignore the view. We were totally enchanted.  We will only be in Honfleur for such a short time, we decided we should take in the full harbor experience as much as we can. We dined on oysters and seafood but missed out on the famous moules (mussels) that every other diner in the restaurant seemed to have ordered.

The Lieutenancy in the background

The Hotel de Ville, far left

The Lieutenancy

The next morning, we chose to have breakfast in one of the restaurants along the harbor once again. We arrived at the harbor just as the sun was beginning to peek out and usher in a  new day.  The waters of Honfleur shimmered in the reflected morning sun. The light here seems so pure that I can understand the lure to the impressionist painters to break free from their studios and workshops and come out here and paint the light.

In the early morning, you almost had the narrow cobble-paved backstreets to yourself and could leisurely peek at the offerings in the patisseries, boulangeries, butcher shop and what-not stores. Honfleur also had a great selection of art galleries being a haven for artists. At this time, while most tourists are still tucked in bed,  you see the citizens of Honfleur going about their daily routines - a mother walking her young children to school, women on their way to the market, a storekeeper arranging the store's display, men delivering seafood, and bread and vegetables to the restaurants - a scene repeated from hundreds of years ago to present day. One of the highlights of our walk was a visit to St. Catherine's Church, the largest surviving wooden church in France. It was built by ship builders, referred to as "Axe Masters", using naval building techniques. No saw was used in the construction at all.

St. Catherine's Church showing its double nave

The bell tower of St. Catherine's

Lining the narrow paved cobbled stone streets, we found many intact half timbered structures, typical of Normandy-style architecture.

Here are some of the paintings of Honfleur by impressionist masters. It is striking to note how Honfleur still looks the same as it did in the 1800s, when the Impressionist were painting there.

Claude Monet (1840-1926) 
 Rue de la Bavolle, Honfleur

The Market at Sainte Catherine, Honfleur
Johan Barthold Jongkind (1819-1891)

Honfleur ,Maison Sur le Quais (1830)
oil on canvas
Jean Baptiste Camile Corot (1796-1875)

The Harbour Entrance, Honfleur
George Seurat (1859-1891)
Oil on Canvas
The Honfleur Lighthouse - Eugene Boudin (1824-1898)

Today, artists from all over the world come to Honfleur to capture its beauty on canvas and paper. Exploring Honfleur, you can understand the fascination of artists old and new with this very inspiring place. I did a couple of paintings in Honfleur on my watercolor journal for this trip and I am definitely inspired to do more paintings of Honfleur using the photographs we took as reference.  Meanwhile, here is the Honfleur page from my journal. You can see the other watercolor sketches from other places we visited in my journal for this trip in  Aquarelle Carnet de Voyage (Watercolor Travel Journal) blog post.

A stroll in Honfleur
by jojo sabalvaro tan
a page from watercolor journal


  1. JoJo beautiful art, beautiful photos and most importantly beautiful writing.