It seems I had planned this trip in my dreams a hundred times - spending a week in Provence, France, with my husband, seeking the hidden village of Gordes, the ocher hills of Roussillon, the reflecting canals of L'Isle sur la Sorgue. When we reached these places that we'd read about in magazines and newspapers, we hoped for a glimpse of Cezanne or van Gogh painting in the sunshine. Maybe they could offer me some tips.
Sitting by the roadside, staring at Mont Sainte Victoire, watching how it catches the light, I tried to capture that magic with my watercolors. In Saint-Remy, looking out a window of what once was an asylum, we tried to spot van Gogh's haystacks on the hill. In Cagnes sur Mer, where Renoir lived the last 10 years of his life, the view of the Mediterranean was heavenly.
Eventually, we reached Paris. For an impressionist artist such as myself, the main activity in Paris is visiting museums. Knowing the Philadelphia Museum of Art was opening a "Renoir Landscapes" exhibition, I decided to track down the locations that had inspired Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
After much research, I found the city of Chatou, which became the highlight of our trip. We read the history of the masterpieces, which led us to the Restaurant de la Maison Fournaise on an island outside of Paris, where the impressionists congregated to paint along the Seine.
Toting art supplies on the Metro, we crossed Pont Neuf and followed in Renoir's footsteps to this treasured spot where he painted his masterpiece
Luncheon of the Boating Party
Set on the river bank, surrounded by flowers and trees, the Restaurant Fournaise appeared in front of us, looking as though it had jumped off the walls of the Art Museum. We blinked our eyes and saw
Lunch at the Restaurant Fournaise
in the background. We closed our eyes and saw it as it must have been more than 100 years ago.
The ocher-colored stucco and brick-trimmed windows were the same as other painters have captured them. The striped awning has been replaced, but it allows memories to come alive.
My husband and I walked along the quay imagining the sailboats in
Springtime (in Chatou)
, the vacationing Parisians, umbrellas shielding women from the sun, reflections on the water. I could hardly pull myself away.
How far we had traveled to meet Renoir face to face. A week later, gazing at the landscapes in the Renoir exhibition, I didn't know where I was - in the museum, or in Chatou.
"Renoir Landscapes" continues at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 26th and the Parkway, through Jan. 6. The museum is open Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m. to 8:45 p.m.. Renoir admission: $22-$24; seniors, $20-$22; students & children 13-18, $18-$20; children 5-12, $12-$14. Prices include regular admission. Information: