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French art: Making an impression in the Hérault

We report on a superb exhibition in Lodève

Monet’s Les rochers de Belle-Île, 1886, is among the fine Impressionist works on display in Lodève until March 19 Pic: © MBA Reims-C. Devleeschauwe

Arts lovers in the Languedoc have one more month to catch the impressionist exhibition in Lodève (Hérault) featuring works from the collection of the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Reims, which owns one of the most extensive collections of landscapes in France. 

The curator, Ivonne Papin-Drastik, was able to mount the exhibition because the museum in Reims is closed for major renovation works until 2025 and is therefore loaning out much of its collection to other museums, including to smaller towns like Lodève. 

Read more: From Renaissance to Hockney - 12 Spring exhibitions to see in France

Focus on freedom

She says she wanted to focus on the freedom felt by impressionist artists to express emotions in their work. 

The exhibition traces the development of landscape painting though realism, impressionism, and post-impressionism, so as well as the big names including Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, and Camille Pissarro, work by more modern artists including Denise Esteban (1925- 1986) is also included. 

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paysage, vers 1890 © MBA Reims-C. Devleeschauwe

The Musée Fleury in Lodève is unusual in that the three permanent collections cover a vast period of history. 

The ‘Traces of Life’ exhibition covers the development of life on Planet Earth since the Big Bang 540 million years ago. 

‘Man’s Footprint’ is a quirky look at prehistory, and ‘Sculpting Lives’ is mainly devoted to the life’s work of the sculptor Paul Dardé (1888-1963). 

Local sculptor

A local sculptor, Dardé’s works can be seen all over the area. 

He made WW1 war memorials for towns and villages including Lodève, Clermont l’Hérault, Soubès, Lunel and Limoux. 

He trained briefly with Rodin, and as well as sculpting also produced a body of drawings, engravings and calligraphy. 

Examples of his work are in museums in Tokyo, Chicago, and Paris but some 2,800 drawings and 567 sculptures are in the museum in Lodève. 


The temporary impressionist exhibition includes Les Rochers de Belle-Ile (1886) by Claude Monet, which is one of 39 canvasses he painted while staying on the island. 

He painted outdoors with the intention that the tides, the wind and the changing light would be reflected in his work. 

The colours used are perhaps less intense than in some of his other, more pastoral works, but the extreme difference between light and shade evokes the wildness of France’s Atlantic coast. 

Iconic Eiffel tower

Maxime Maufra (1861-1918) was fascinated by lights at night, as can be seen in his painting Fèerie Nocturne, Pont d’Iéna. 

Maxime Maufra (1861-1918), Fèerie Nocturne, Pont d’Iéna © MBA Reims-C. Devleeschauwe

The view of Parisian illuminations twinkling in the inky waters of the Seine is beautifully accomplished. 

The iconic Eiffel tower almost resembles a lighthouse, it is so big and the emanating beam of light so steady and bright. 

It was one of the first paintings of the iconic landmark, which was only finished in 1899. 

The painting was exhibited at the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1900, and rather than being an exact portrayal of the scene, emphasises the electric lighting with touches of bright red and yellow. 

In contrast, Denise Esteban’s Paysage Marin assembles geometric shapes and tonal colours to convey the changing light across the sand dunes, and an atmosphere of silence and contemplation. 

Born in Reims, she died in Nantes. She also created a series of pastels of the desert during a visit to Abu Dhabi in 1982. 

The Musée Fleury in Lodève museum mounts two temporary exhibitions of contemporary art each year. 

Resolutely family-friendly, it runs workshops for children during all school holidays. 

(Details on their website.) En Route Vers l’Impressionnisme runs until March 19.

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