How to spend an Impressionist afternoon


Gustave Caillebotte was a very important figure in the history of impressionist painting in France.  He came from a wealthy family and had the time to devote himself to art.  His paintings are now in the Art Institute, Chicago (the impressive “Place de l’Europe”), the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and the Fine Arts Museum in Houston.  Four works, including my favorite “View of rooftops, effect of snow”, by Caillebotte can be admired in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

Caillebotte was a friend and sponsor of other French painters and helped them out financially.  In his will he left 67 paintings to the French Government.  However, because of space restrictions and rules about hanging works by living artists in the Louvre, the government authorities only accepted 38.  The remaining 29 paintings were returned to Caillebotte’s brother.  Two of the loveliest paintings in the Musée d’Orsay,  Renoir’s “The Swing” and “The Moulin de la Galette” came from the Caillebotte bequest.

Fans of Caillebotte, both the painter and the art collector, have the opportunity to take a suburban RER train from the Gare de Lyon in Paris and visit for free the extensive country estate of the Caillebotte family in Yerres.  Caillebotte painted many scenes of the park and garden and of boating on the river.

Even without the association with an Impressionist painter, the Caillebotte Estate is a wonderful place to visit because of the extensive and well kept park, the river scenes, and the restored house (where one can watch a film on Impressionism) — and there is no admission charge to pay.Caillebotte4  Another subject painted by Caillebotte was the “potager” (vegetable garden) at the far end of the park.  This garden was restored in 2011 by volunteers, although it only covers one-third of its original surface.  Since the “potager” is only open on weekends, one should plan to visit on Saturday or Sunday.

An Impressionist meal

Besides a visit to the vegetable and flower garden, another way to feel like you are in an Impressionist painting yourself, is to have lunch in the garden at the Restaurant le Chalet du Parc, where both the food and the service are excellent.  The menu is slightly more expensive on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, but is a memorable experience.  We were lucky to be there on a perfect sunny day.  The tables in the garden have a view of the park and the trees. The 43 euro menu included an “extra” of a tasty “panna cotta de creme de carottes au curry”.  The first course was white aspergus with parmesan, additional flavor provided by a dollop of tapanade and roasting juice.  My friend ordered a gaspacho of peas with diced fresh tuna. Caillebotte1 My main course of roasted cod was accompanied by small “grenaille” potatoes and courgettes.  My friend was very enthusiastic about the perfectly sautéed lamb chops and lamb filet in a pastry crust.  It was a problem to choose among the several desserts on the menu, but I think I made the best decision in opting for the compote of rhubarb and strawberries served with a scoop of ice cream made from “fromage blanc” (a fresh cheese similar to yogurt). Caillebotte2  The wines were of the same high quality as the food, and can be ordered by the glass:  white Cote de Provence “Saint-Victoire”2011 from the Saint Ser winery, and a Savigny les Beaune red burgundy (2012) made by Rodolphe Demougeot.

Getting there

From Gare de Lyon or Chatelêt take RER D-2 and not RER D-4 (both trains leave from the same platform) to Yerres.  Once at Yerres exit the station to the bus parking lot.  Take Bus F4 or Bus F (confirm with the driver).   However, the bus doesn’t run very often, and it is easy to walk to the Caillebotte estate in 10-12 minutes.  Walk down the small hill and turn right– at the corner pass through the small parking lot.  At the next intersection there will be a sign to the “Propriete Caillebotte”. Once past the supermarket you are almost there.  Continue on past the community center on the square and go downhill.

How nice and cool it was as soon as one entered the Caillebotte estate — thanks to the shade of the tall trees, the lawn and the flower beds — all was calm, beauty and luxury.  One felt that the Caillebotte family must have been rich indeed (in fact, Caillebotte eventually gave up painting and devoted himself to designing and building his own yachts).

Practical information:

The Potager is only open on weekends: Saturday: 10h30 – 12h30  and 14h30 – 18h00;   Sunday:  14h30-18h00

The restaurant Chalet du Parc is closed on Monday and Tuesdays, Tel: 01 69 06 86 29

Entrance to the Caillebotte estate is free.

France For My Friends is an occasional column written by long-time Paris resident Alexandria McGill.