As a landscape painter, I find myself constantly curious to see what lies over every hill. Of course, there’s more than enough to keep me painting in my own backyard; Oregon is filled with diversity and wonder, but when opportunity provides the chance to explore, I’m always eager.
A few weeks ago I was fortunate to have been teaching and painting in the Lot Valley of France. Having visited the Provence region three years ago, I was anxious to return to France. As Robert Henri noted in his book, The Art Spirit, France is a nation that centuries ago embraced its artistic nature. It’s manifest everywhere. The aesthetic of beauty is not just by accident but also by design. They honor and respect painters. Art is thought of as a noble endeavor: What’s not to love about that?!
The workshop was hosted at a popular artist’s retreat, Domaine du Haut Baran. Hosts William and Rosalie Haas have transformed an 18th century country manor into a painter’s paradise. Nestled in a quiet hillside overlooking the Lot River valley and the village of Puy L’Eveque, it provides ample painting opportunities in its own right. This popular location has hosted many art workshops with some of the most recognizable names in the art community, artists like Elizabeth Mowry, Alan Flattmann and Judith Carducci. With quiet Bastide villages nearby, painters find they can focus on their craft while still enjoying the local culture without compromise.
My visit occuring near the end of June and into the first part of July allowed our group to witness firsthand the summer heat and taste a bit of the humidity which keeps the valley so lush. All of this was forgotten with the first glimpse of lavender fields. There’s nothing quite as perfect as a decaying ochre-colored 13th century castle perched on a hillside above a field of lavender. It didn’t hurt that it was set near a winery that nursed the mood of a few frustrated painters. Another afternoon we visited some of the first pastel paintings recorded 25,000 years ago in the caves of Pech Merle (early man even formed them into stick form before applying the pigment to the cave walls) making us proud to have carried the torch into the 21st century. Say what they will, pastel was first!
The final thrill caught us by surprise as we drove back from an afternoon of painting in the hilltop Bastide of Belaye. A panoramic view into the Lot Valley brought glimpses of the river as it meandered through the fertile valley, and then sunflowers—entire fields of them! William encouraged us to walk into the fields amongst the rows of flowers. It really was a sea of dancing cadmium. As a group, we were so impressed that on the final day we persuaded him to take us back and even more fields were explored. Every culture has its art, but as a landscape artist, it’s easy to see why France is so dear.
You can visit Haut Baran’s web site at www.hautbaran.com. If you’re able to attend one of their fine workshop offerings, I encourage you to do so. I know I’ll be back. The sunflowers must be painted!