The village of Barbizon – le village des peintres as it is called in French – is Beautiful: with a capital B. Sixty-one kms (38 miles) north of Paris, artists – Millet, Corot, Rousseau, Decamps, Daubigny and Diaz de la Pena to name only them – came here in the mid to late […]
The village of Barbizon – le village des peintres as it is called in French – is Beautiful: with a capital B.
Sixty-one kms (38 miles) north of Paris, artists – Millet, Corot, Rousseau, Decamps, Daubigny and Diaz de la Pena to name only them – came here in the mid to late 19th century drawn by its light and the dark greens of the adjoining forest, the forest of Fontainebleau, to paint.
The first artist had come in 1830 and until 1870 artists had continued to come to the hamlet. No train to Barbizon itself, but a tram from the town of Melun which called in at the hamlet of Chailly-en-Biere, 2,4 kms (miles) from Barbizon, that was where the artists, who had become known as the ‘colorists’ and the ‘landscapers’, descended to walk the rest of the way to Barbizon, their easels and paints, on their backs. There in Barbizon the owners of an inn, Monsieur et Madame Ganne, welcomed them, offering a simple bed and a cheap but wholesome meal.
Today, Barbizon with a population of around 1,500 is still very much as it was when this was where the artists had flocked to.
The houses, or rather cottages, small and of stone, covered in ivy, line Grande Rue, the main street, and more cottages behind rose gardens line the cobbled lanes leading from this main street. And all along the street have been placed large reproductions in ceramics of some of the masterpieces of Barbizon’s artists.
Shops are few – I counted a bakery, a butcher, a chemist, a hair salon – the remaining shops being art galleries. And restaurants and hotels. The buildings not gory glass and steel structures, but small, ivy-covered stone buildings. Tables and chairs set out under parasols in small gardens or on small terraces and even on the pavements/sidewalks.
There is still no train to the village, neither are there buses, and as Grande Rue is a one-way and those who come to the village by car is politely requested on billboards to leave their vehicle on the outskirts of the street, this is a village remarkably free of petrol and diesel fumes. Thus, sitting on a small terrace or on a narrow pavement/sidewalk, there are no petrol and diesel fumes.
It is therefore still very much ‘old world’. Old world charming.
However, therein lies a problem …
Barbizon is difficult to get to if one does not have one’s own transport.
As the tourist office advises and so indeed the locals, the way to get to the village is by taxi from either of the two nearest big towns: Melun at 13 kms (8 miles) or Fontainebleau at 9 kms (6 miles). (Paris is 61 kms (38 miles) from the village.
I must say that here are buses from both Melun and Fontainebleau to the village, but these are very very rare: like one very early in the morning and one at the end of the day. These buses are school buses which take passengers other than children and this explains their inconvenient times. And note that they do not run during school holidays/vacations.
Taxis leave from the railroad/railway stations of Melun and Fontainebleau. The fare from either of the two towns comes to around €20 depending on the traffic in the two towns. The ride takes about 15 minutes and it is a very pleasant ride through Fontainebleau Forest.
Now what is there to see?
There are the Ganne Inn, now a museum, at No 92 Grande Rue, and the Rousseau Museum at No 55 Grande Rue, and although I am mentioning it last it should by no means be last on your list: Millet’s House and Studio, also now a museum. It was in this house, at No 27 on Grande Rue that Millet lived and worked. The museum is but small – three rooms – but not only will you be able to feast your eyes on some of his works of art, but also on those of other Barbizon artists.
The entry fee for the Ganne Inn and the Rousseau Museum are both €4. The opening hours are every day but Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 12.30 and from 2 p.m. to 5.30 p. m. The Rousseau Museum is though open only when it has a special temporary exhibition. The entry fee to Millet’s House is also €4. Not expensive you must admit, but the restaurants do rather charge a lot.
All three museums will be closed on Christmas Day and on January 1. However, the village will be illuminated for the Festive Season and I am certain it will be something to see.
So, see you there!