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Travel with the Impressionists: From Monet's garden to Sorolla's Alhambra

As a new exhibition opens at the Royal Academy of Arts, Aoife O'Riordain explores the scenery behind the paintings

Aoife O'Riordain
Wednesday 27 January 2016 10:36 GMT
Art and soul: Monet's Japanese bridge
Art and soul: Monet's Japanese bridge

Artists have always drawn inspiration from their surroundings, whether they're natural or man-made, and a new exhibition opening on Saturday at London's Royal Academy of Arts delves into artists' fascination with gardens. “Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse” explores the influence they exerted on Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and avant-garde artists from the 1860s to the 1920s (020 7300 8027;; admission £17.60; until 20 April).

Highlights include Monet's rarely displayed together Agapanthus Triptych 1916-1919 and Renoir's Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil. But whether it's gardens, seascapes or urban scenes, it's easy to explore the surroundings that influenced great Impressionist painters.

Moorish moments

The Spanish painter Joaquín Sorolla was a contemporary of Monet's who painted many locations in Andalucia, including the gardens of the Alhambra in Granada, as well as using features from his own in Madrid. RHS Garden Holidays (020 3176 5800; has an escorted seven-night Architecture and Gardens tour exploring both the Alhambra and Generalife gardens as well as the Alcazar in Seville, another subject of Sorolla's works. From £1,245pp with flights, B&B, one dinner, entry fees and transfers.

American beauty

Childe Hassam was a prominent American Impressionist artist born in Boston in 1859. One of his works, Poppies on the Isles of Shoals, featured in the RA exhibition, was painted on the eponymous string of islands straddling the coasts of New Hampshire and Maine.

Montmartre , Paris (Alamy)

Hassam was a regular visitor to the Oceanic Hotel, opened in 1873 and set on the second-largest, Star Island. It's now run as a conference and retreat centre (001 603 430 6272;, but visitors can book a “personal retreat” – an overnight stay costing from $185pp (£132). Accommodation is basic, available on selected dates from mid-June to mid-September with registration starting on 1 April. Transfers on the Isles of Shoals Steamship from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, are included.

Water lilies

Claude Monet was one of the central figures in the French Impressionist movement, and the gardens at the house in Giverny, Normandy, where he lived for 43 years, are testament to his impressive horticultural abilities.

The Clos Normand is traditional, while the Asian-inspired Water Lily garden, with its wisteria-draped Japanese bridge, offered inspiration to the artist. Now home to the Fondation Claude Monet (00 33 2 32 51 28 21;; admission €9.50), the gardens are open to the public from 25 March to 1 November.

Lakeside lovely

With one of Europe's largest inland beaches, Lake Wannsee, just outside Berlin, has long been a popular place to escape the hum of the city. And it's easy to see why Max Liebermann referred to his villa, which looks out over the water, as his “lakeside palace”.

The artist spent more than 10 years painting the stunning gardens he designed for the villa, which he built in 1909. It's now a visitor attraction dedicated to his life and work (00 49 30 805 85 900;; admission €7), its walls adorned with 154 of his paintings.

Paris, mon amour

The French capital has long played host to artists of all kinds, most notably the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists who made their home in the hilly district of Montmartre.

Discover Walks (00 33 970 449 724; offers a “Montmartre, Orsay and the Impressionists” guided walking tour that follows in the footsteps of Renoir, Monet, Cezanne and more, taking in sites that inspired famous paintings.

The €45 (£34) fee also includes a queue-jump ticket for the Musée d'Orsay, where many great artworks are housed, such as Renoir's Bal du Moulin de la Galette and Degas' Dinner At The Ball.

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