‘A Taste for Impressionism’ at the Scottish National Gallery: An Imaginative Journey to France

Would you like to take a wee trip to France? Perhaps to take in the sparkling waters of the picturesque harbours or walk through the blooming orchards or moody forests? Well, you are in luck because this week we take a virtual journey to do all that and more- albeit in a bit of a more imaginative way. You see, we are going to visit the Scottish National Gallery and their current exhibition- ‘A Taste for Impressionism: Modern French Art from Millet to Matisse’. So, with our imaginations ready for action, join us!


A Journey Through France


Our ‘journey’ through France is illustrated by some of the most celebrated artists of their time and they are the inspiration for this imaginative ‘walking tour’ on which we now embark...


We start off deep in the Jura mountains along the French/Swiss border. The rich varying greens and blues draw you into the lush forest setting. Perhaps we shall stop for a moment alongside the River Doubs while we breath in the fresh mountain air and enjoy our incredible surroundings.


A River in a Mountain Gorge/ Gustave Courbet

Continuing our forest theme, we now go further inland to the Forest of Fontainebleau. It’s a rather dark and moody setting, and I can see why it inspired so many Impressionist artists. Watch where you step as the undergrowth can easily trip you up.


Undergrowth (Sous-bois)/ Narcisse-Virgile Diaz de la Peña

Just on the edge of a wooded area, I see a familiar scene from our home in Scotland. An ancient tree provides shade for the sheep as they eagerly lap up the cool water. I can just imagine myself climbing the old tree, lazing the day away, secure on its sturdy branches. If I listen closely I can hear the wee lamb baaahing....perhaps a bit nervous due to the herding dog who is keeping a close eye on the group.


Sheep at a Watering-place/Charles-Emile Jacque

It’s quite hot as I make my way out of the forest and continue my journey along a well-travelled road. I’m not alone though, and I’m visited by a few friends. I give a nod of my head toward the farmer as he guides his cattle back from a long day’s work in the field.


Return from Work/ Constant Troyon

The beating sun proves to be a bit of a foe and I long for shade. Fortunately, as I continue along, I came across a lovely orchard where I stop and rest in the shade of the blossoming trees. Closing my eyes, I breath in the aromatic scent.


Orchard in Blossom/Charles-Francçois Daubigny

Everywhere I go, I’m surrounded by the most beautiful pastoral scenes. Folks are hard at work in the fields, watching their herds and flocks as they graze on the thick grass. Herding dogs keep on the lookout for a stray lamb or cow that might veer from the group and get lost.


Cattle Grazing in Touraiine/ Constant Troyon

As it's quite hot, I think it's best to continue my journey along the waterways. That way I can dip my feet in and cool off when needed. After quite a bit of walking, I find another place to rest my weary feet. It's the most serene spot, and I feel as though I'm in a dream. My eyes begin to feel heavy and I decide that dreaming isn't such a bad idea...


The Goatherd/ Camille Corot

After my peaceful nap, I head back out to continue our explorations. I've been trekking along a dusty dirt road for quite some time, and I eventually approach a village where I'm greeted by the medieval stones of a church. Situated among the modest houses, it provides a stark contrast to its surroundings. Yet, it also gives a sense of timelessness knowing that it has stood for centuries.


The Church at Vétheuil/ Claude Monet

Exiting the village, I find my way back to the main road and press on. The alfalfa is growing splendidly in the field. It's all a bit of a blur, but the colours in shades of green, orange, and yellow pop out at me.


La Luzerne, Saint-Denis/ Georges Seurat

After our countryside walks, I think it is time to head toward the ‘City of Light’. I would be remiss if we didn’t stop at one of my favourite spots in Paris- the Tuileries Gardens. I first visited in my youth during the springtime for which Paris is so famous.


The Tuileries Gardens, Paris/ Camille Pissarro

The gardens in Paris are indeed lovely and I stop to watch a child playing with her boat while the woman with her enjoys her sewing.


Woman and Child in a Garden/ Berthe Morisot

However, not everyone can sit about in pursuits of leisure. Some people are hard at work, and I see a woman doing laundry in her portable tub.


Laundress/ Camille Pissarro

The sun is setting and creating warm hues that soften my surroundings. There doesn’t seem to be a soul in sight and the silence provides a moment for me to reflect on the journey I’ve taken so far.


Nemours/ Henri Le Sidaner

Evening is upon us and the darkness envelopes me along with continued silence. As cliché as it sounds, it truly is amazing the difference between night and day. Everyone has gone to bed in preparation for the busy day they will once again face in the morning. Looking to the end of the street, I can see light illuminating from a lone window- as if it’s a beacon guiding me on. I decide to stop there for the night...


A Village Street at Evening/ Jean Charles Cazin

It is the dawn of a new day and I decide to head to the coast for the chance to breath in some invigorating sea air. It’s rejuvenating and just the change of scene I need after yesterday’s inland journey. The day has started off with brilliant sunshine and I set out eager to see what awaits me.


Cliff at Fécamp/ Claude Monet

Much of my coastal walk reminds me of Scotland with the picturesque harbours and seascapes.


Boats in Harbour/ Claude Monet

Trouville Harbour/ Eugène Boudin

Étretat, the Needle Rock and Porte d'Aval/ Claude Monet

It has been a beautiful day, but evening has once again crept upon us. It’s a moody night, and I enjoy one last look out as the moonlight reflects off the water and the sailboats make their way home. Reluctantly, I decide to do the same...


A Seascape, Shipping by Moonlight/ Claude Monet

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve enjoyed our imaginative journey to France. We can give thanks for today’s exploration to some fortunate but savvy Scottish Industrialists who had the foresight to buy the paintings (that guided us today) in the early to mid-20th century. You can learn more about these collectors by visiting the Scottish National Gallery and their ‘Taste of Impressionism' exhibition which we highly recommend that you see it in person. In fact, there is an exciting new discovery on display as part of the event.


A New Discovery


According to the Gallery, when conservators did an x-ray on Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Head of a Peasant Woman’, they were surprised to find a “ghostly image of a mysterious bearded sitter in a brimmed hat with a white neckerchief loosely tied at the throat”....a self-portrait! The artist was known to save money by reusing canvases and this is what he did with this painting.



A Good Old-Fashioned Mystery!


In addition, one fun aspect of the exhibition comes down to a good old-fashioned mystery. Upon arrival at reception, attendees are given a paper instructing you to ‘Spot the Fake’. National Galleries Scotland explains that “in the 1920s, with the market for Impressionism thriving, a side industry of fakes took hold [the exhibition goes into further detail discussing the counterfeit market and how it even affected Edinburgh and the Gallery]. In keeping with the spirit of the age, ‘A Taste for Impressionism’ includes one undeclared counterfeit work”.


There are 9 images of paintings/drawings that are dispersed throughout the exhibition and you have to decide which one is the fake. Upon exiting the exhibition, you can circle which one you think is the counterfeit and enter a drawing for a chance to win £250 of gift vouchers. Therefore, if you attend the show, be sure to take part in this entertaining competition. I think it is an ingenious idea by the curators to get everyone who visits immersed in the show.


The ‘Impressionism’ exhibition is on display until 13 November. Please go to the National Galleries Scotland website for more information on how to best plan your visit.


Until next time- Explore & Discover!