Are you looking for some vacation destinations? You probably want to know about attractions at your destinations. We have fun facts about attractions in Barbizon, France in this post. Barbizon has so many interesting things to see. The town is about 35 miles southeast of Paris, France. What makes it interesting is its association with the Barbizon school of painters, a group of artists who painted outdoors and sought to capture the natural beauty of the landscape in their paintings.
During the mid-19th century, Barbizon became a popular destination for artists who wanted to escape the urban environment of Paris and paint in the countryside. The artists would set up their easels and paint directly from nature, often focusing on the changing light and atmosphere throughout the day. The Barbizon school was instrumental in the development of the Impressionist movement that followed. As a traveler, here are some attractions you should consider when you visit Barbizon.Madeline and I visited Barbizon in conjunction with a tour we took with our Visit France tour guides: Doru and Stella. You hear me talk about these two a lot in France because we took plenty of tours with them. This particular tour combined Barbizon with Chateau de Fontainebleau. You’ll hear more about Chateau de Fontainebleau in a separate post. This post is all about Barbizon.
I didn’t know anything about Barbizon. I was surprised to see these mosaics on the main street. I heard the Barbizon name in conjunction with a modeling agency. Doru and Stella are fascinated with history, and they told us the background. Barbizon was once considered to be a hunting village for the King of France. The Fontainebleau forest was very large, and Barbizon was used as a base when the King and his group would go hunting.
Barbizon is known as the birthplace of the Barbizon school of painting, a group of French landscape painters in the mid-19th century who worked outdoors to capture the natural beauty of the forests, fields, and countryside around Barbizon. The Barbizon school is considered a precursor to the Impressionist movement.
In the 19th century, some painters were entranced by the beauty of the forest and the people that worked in the fields. Many of the painters were unknown to the larger art world and got by selling a painting or two. Many of them stayed in the same hostel together.
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Theodore Rousseau, Jean-Francois Millet, and Charles-Francis Daubigny were both friends and colleagues. They created art that was known more for realism – for painting people and things as they were. Van Gogh was a fan of the school and imitated the style in his own paintings. In later years, Vincent Van Gogh was so taken by Millet’s style, he painted 40 copies of his paintings, declaring Millet his master. In the latter part of the 19th century, a second generation of artists from the Impressionist era, including Monet, Renoir, and Alfred Sisley, painted in Barbizon.
Musee de L’Ecole de Barbizon
There is a museum in town which originally was the living quarters of many of the artists. The Barbizon school museum, Musee de L’Ecole de Barbizon is also called the Museum of the Painters of Barbizon. Within the museum, you first walk up some stairs.
Jean-Francois Millet has three rooms: the studio, living quarters and kitchen. Throughout the home there are paintings, photos, heirlooms, and personal possessions of the artists. The artists were relatively poor so they would paint on anything.
We found this painting on an upstairs wall.
Their sleeping quarters were probably not as opulent as the picture indicates but it is a very nice period piece representing the quality and craftsmanship of the painter’s era. There are lots of paintings hanging all through the museum but there are also paintings hand drawn on the walls or cupboards.
This painting was in the central common room.
You can see paintings directly on the cabinet in the dining room.
The kitchen looks very authentic. Since the hotel/auberge was staffed, I can only imagine seeing the cook going about business while the innkeeper was keeping track of guests, food deliveries, etc.
There is a modest price for admission to the museum, but it is well worth it. It is like stepping back through time.
Hotel Bas Breau
We did not stay at the Hotel Bas Breau but we loved the history of the place. In the mid to late 1870s, Robert Louis Stevenson was often at Barbizon. He loved the forest air and would stay at the Hotel Bas
Robert Louis Stevenson came to Barbizon primarily because of the Fontainebleau Forest but also because of the artists who lived there. He wrote about his time in Barbizon in “Forest Notes” (1876), which are in Essays of Travel. He also wrote about his experiences in “Fontainebleau” (1884), which you can read in Across the Plains (1884).We noticed the plaque on the hotel well and thought it must be Robert Louis Stevenson but it was Ladislas de Paal, a Hungarian painter who presumably stayed at the hotel.
I was more familiar with the works of Corot and Rousseau and not Millet. I also liked Monet, Manet, Van Gogh and many other impressionist styled painters.
Madeline and I would go to the Art Institute in Chicago on weekend dates. It was free for us, so it allowed my money to go toward a movie or food later. The Millet Museum was the home and studio of Jean-Francois Millet. He and his family lived in the home consisting of three rooms: the kitchen, the living quarters, and his atelier (studio). The museum has photos, self-portraits, and personal possessions of Millet. Two of his more famous works, The Angelus and The Gleaners were created in this home.
I mentioned The Gleaners above and I was surprised to see the mosaic version of it on the street. Madeline and I were charmed by seeing all of the outdoor “paintings” that were hanging on the walls of the main streets including the Grande Rue. They are mosaic recreations of the major paintings of Jean-François Millet, Jean-Baptiste Corot, Théodore Rousseau and more. They were commissioned in Venice and were definitely worth multiple photo opportunities.
This one is a little girl with her goat. The artist is Narcisse Díaz De La Peña (1807-1876).
I particularly liked this one. You can see its proximity to a gated entrance. These iron gates are everywhere, and Madeline was fascinated by them. The artist was Constant Tryon who was introduced to Rousseau, Dupre and the other Barbizon painters.
Barbizon is a wealthy enclave and many of the homes are more like mansions than houses. We asked Doru about the housing market and he said the homes ranged from $1 million USD to $10 million USD.
But just walking along the streets, looking at the mosaic reproductions and smelling the nearby forest air was an experience.
There were art galleries everywhere. If you are a fan of the Barbizon school, you will not be disappointed. There are plenty of reproductions available everywhere.
We found a city park with an art sculpture of dogs. I’m not sure what the cage was supposed to represent. The dogs appear to be guarding it.
The visit to Barbizon was well worth it. It’s very close to Fontainebleau and if you have Doru and Stella as your tour guides, you’ll really enjoy it.