The Impressionist Trail at Chatou
Walk in the footsteps of the painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir in Chatou. Come and discover the landscapes and the Fournaise hamlet so beloved of this painter, starting with a visit to the Fournaise museum, which tells his wonderful story. Enjoy the site on foot, by bike or by boat, with a picnic or a fine meal at the restaurant. And don’t forget to visit the major events held throughout the year on the Île des Impressionnistes in Chatou.
We invite you to follow the paths of the Impressionists and to see their works, which can be found throughout the Saint Germain Boucles de Seine region.
The Ile des Impressionnistes in a few words
The Ile des Impressionnistes is 4.5 km long. It was named after the painters who frequented the site in the 19th century: Renoir, Monet, Degas, Caillebotte, Sisley, Morisot and the Manet family.
From south to north, you’ll find the Parc des Impressionnistes, a family-friendly sports park with facilities including a gymnasium, skatepark, basketball court and pony club, followed by the exhibition hall, the car park under the bridge, the Hameau Fournaise, the EDF research site and, finally, the Ile Fleurie golf course.
On the banks of Rueil-Malmaison and Chatou, you’ll find magnificent holiday resorts that have been popular since the 19th century with families looking for a gentle way of life just a stone’s throw from Paris by rail.
Renoir in Chatou
In the time of crinoline and straw boaters
In the 1860s, Renoir discovered Chatou and its banks. It would seem that it was Prince Bibesco who took the penniless young painter to the restaurant Fournaise newly rebuilt by the owners of the same name. Over the summers, Renoir returned frequently to paint there. The festive atmosphere of the straw boaters delighted him. Even though it was a party, he spent hours at his easel: “I was always hanging out at Fournaise’s, where I found as many beautiful girls to paint as I could possibly want”.
He also enjoyed painting the wonderful landscapes and two portraits of the Fournaises. The Fournaises were delighted when Renoir chose the balcony of their establishment as the setting for one of his most ambitious paintings: fourteen characters conversing in the sun at the end of the summer of 1880. Renoir painted the joys of life. Now world-famous, it is – you guessed it – Déjeuner des Canotiers (Luncheon of the Boating Party).
The development of Renoir’s artistic style
This masterpiece marked a turning point in the painter’s development and pictorial research. Although his treatment of landscapes and objects was Impressionist, Renoir returned to drawing and to the strong line he consciously used to give weight to his figures. Lastly, he abandoned the visible Impressionist touch in the faces, pulsating with life. It is true that Renoir experimented with new ways of painting in each of his pictures. But one constant runs through his painting throughout his career: he couldn’t stand boring subjects. This reflected his idea of what his art should be.
Renoir intended this large painting for the annual Salon in Paris. However, he decided to sell it to his dealer Durand-Ruel, who exhibited it in his name and not that of its artist at the 7th Impressionist exhibition. This scene from Modern Life became one of the icons of Impressionism.
In the years that followed, Renoir gradually abandoned the Impressionist technique in favour of a colder style that was less appreciated by dealers and art lovers. So, Renoir was only an Impressionist for a time. He wished to pursue his artistic research as he saw fit, not caring about his fans’ the criticism and regret. Like most Impressionist painters, he divided his time between his travels and his visits to other regions, from which he brought back some very fine canvases.
Renoir’s attachment to Chatou
Chatou and the banks of the Seine would continue to hold a special place in the painter’s memories. Even at the end of his life, when he divided his time between Paris, Essoyes and Cagnes-sur-Mer, he returned from time to time to say hello to the Fournaise family, and never failed to visit his family living in Louveciennes.
So be sure to visit the Musée Fournaise located in the Hameau Fournaise on the island. This is where the story of Renoir’s adventures, friends and loves is told through innovative displays: an hour’s immersion in his painting not to be missed.
The Île des Impressionnistes, heritage offers
The Hameau Fournaise in Chatou
Today, the Hameau Fournaise is a place to relax and have fun, with a focus on history and artists.
Maison Levanneur ground floor
Ground floor of the Gare d’Eau, Quai Fournaise.
1st floor of la Maison Levanneur.
Musée Fournaise, garden side.
Maison Levanneur ground floor
Do you prefer urban art? All the information you need about the Chatou street art trail is available from the Saint Germain Boucles de Seine Tourist Information office (open from May to September every year). In fact, one of the frescoes was painted directly on the façade of the Maison Levanneur. Start your tour here!
The Île des Impressionnistes, gourmet offerings
- Les Rives de la Courtille restaurant and its superb terrace are located at the Gare d’Eau, a pretty wooden building set in green countryside on the water’s edge.
- La Maison Fournaise restaurant occupies the historic rooms of the 19th-century establishment, not forgetting the balcony where Renoir painted Le Déjeuner des Canotiers. It’s as if you are in the painting!
The Île des Impressionnistes, a range of river trips and cruises on the Seine
- Aboard its electric boat Chloé, Sequana and volunteers help visitors explore the river, its nature, its wildlife and the viewpoints chosen by the painters.
- Every year, the Saint Germain Boucle de Seine tourist office offers several dates for guided or themed cruises departing from Chatou.
The Île des Impressionnistes, event offer
- One of the main not-to-be-missed events is: The Foire de Chatou. Popular with bargain hunters and gourmets, it is held twice a year, in March and September.
- Next, the Festival Elektric Park at the end of the summer. Every year, on the first weekend in September, festival-goers gather around some of the world’s biggest electro DJs.
- Not to forget the Festival Lumières Impressionnistes, a sound and light show. It’s a special moment, held on the second weekend in September, with a brand new programme every year. Not to be missed is the small Market of Lights, a night-time craft market that runs along the riverbank. Free entry.
- Finally, winter 2023-2024 hosts Le Cirque du Soleil, which needs no introduction!
The Île des Impressionnistes, a fun offer
- Giant Cluedo®: become a detective for an afternoon, thanks to the Saint Germain Boucles de Seine Tourist Office and in collaboration with actors from Artistes et Compagnie.
- For youngsters: A treasure hunt with the Musée Fournaise as well as holiday workshops. Price: €3 per participant.
Staying in Chatou
Accommodation options in Chatou
If you’re touring by bike, the Île des Impressionnistes is an ideal stopping-off point.
Find all the cycle welcome points along the way.
Explore by pleasure boat
Or, if you’re on the water, dock on the banks of Chatou to explore the surrounding area: two pontoons are available for visiting boats.