History

The Saint Siméon Farmhouse Inn, a Beautiful Farm with a Glorious Artistic Past !

Once upon a time, this gorgeous 17th century farmhouse was a place abounding with new ideas and perspectives. In around the year 1840, several young artists sojourned within its illustrious walls. Thanks to the warm welcome they received from “Mother Toutain,” the innkeeper at the time, this flock of young painters, hungry for nature and fresh, country air, produced a number of exceptional pieces of artwork which are treasured today. These extraordinary encounters gave rise to the famous Impressionist School of Honfleur, otherwise known as the School of Saint Siméon.

image Ciels - Eugène Boudin

Painters have always worked outside, if only to provide a stage for their representations. Eventually one realized that a landscape could be picturesque, worthy of being portrayed all by itself, and thereby express the sensitivity and emotion of the artist.

This taste for nature first appeared with English painters, who came to the French countryside for inspiration to feed their talent.

But soon these artist gatherings would bear witness to a trend that was quickly gaining steam, namely that of the love for outdoor pictorial art.

A stunning view: The Seine Estuary...The immense and magnificent river, the sea and its shifting horizons, a constant mist; a prism bathed with swaying brightness, decomposed colors, and clouds that roll in clear blue or the softest of grays, sometimes leaden, always improbable. Sudden gusts, runoff from light-filled rain showers, flowing yellows and ochers...The marvel of these unpredictable scenes, sought after so dearly by our young artists, today more than ever the darlings of the arts.

Air, water, light...Moments.

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To everyone’s greatest delight, these children of the light met and mingled at the Saint Siméon Farm, where the charitable Mother Toutain, as early as 1825, could not think of any other way to be a pleasant hostess than to lavishly spoil and treat them to all the scrumptious recipes to which only she held the secret, and which forged the reputation of her Norman kitchen.

The small group of painters, longing for nature and obsessed with the sea and its panoramas, gathered at this most welcoming of inns.

There was Boudin, Jongkind, Corot, Courbet, Bazille, Monet, and so many other talents which have gone forgotten, Daubigny, Dubourg, Isabey, Lebourg, Troyon...The list goes on and on! Happy and well-fed, their thirsts quenched with delicious ciders and other fruity calvados, the artists went on to produce several works, one as beautiful as the other. The result was an extensive production which can be found today in the most exquisite museums in France (Orsay, Eugène Boudin Museum, Musée Malraux) or during estate settlements in the world’s biggest auction houses.

Often, the impoverished young artists would leave a piece of their artwork with Mother Toutain to pay for their stay...A vast collection was thus able to be put together from this time, one exuding the richness of these unforgettable encounters.

Who was the kind “Mother Toutain,” the innkeeper at that time? A canon of her era? Perhaps. A gossip? Of course! But only with the joviality of a dear friend...She was an overseer with a colorful personality, snappy and direct with a soft, "motherly” side towards these young, capricious, often endearing young boys...they were her spoiled children. “Her” young artists, whom she cared for deeply, gathered around charming and undoubtedly raucous tables, merry from Norman delights which we can imagine being served in generous proportions...

“Hop to it Rose! Go and fetch some cider quick, these gentleman are thirsty!” And Rose would run down to the cellar with its rows of massive barrels of the golden concoction...

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image La route sous la neige - Claude Monet

The grandiose Inn still towers over its Estuary...

A passage from the famous poet and Honfleur native Lucie Delarue Mardrus, who used words the same way others used touches of colorful pastels, provides a better idea of the Inn today...

“There’s something wonderful in the air on the Côte de Grâce. It’s that the Estuary is over there, with its colors of the rainbow. You see it at the end of a large valley, between the dark-hued branches of the magnificent trees; there are sailboats in the Estuary, setting suns, one over the other in the distance at low tide in the glossy mud, admirable, local; a beauty that comes close to the whites and pinks of spring, to royal autumns, stripped of leaves, with withered flowers on the hilly lawns we walk across; all set under circular clouds and flat blue skies, mist, rain...”

We might also consider the words written by Monet to his friend Bazille: “Every day I discover new things which are more beautiful than those from the day before. It’s enough to make one giddy.”

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Today, as in the past, the breathtaking Saint Siméon Farm maintains its position of prestige by continuing to watch over its Estuary, as if raising itself up to get a better glimpse of the water and air which will blend together under our enchanted gazes for all of eternity.

The various building structures remain in place, with the farm itself in the bluish green reflections of its slate coat, the timber-studded pavilion, where people and animals once mingled, and the marvelous thatched cottage facing them, under its straw hat. Once painted by Monet, it was also an eyewitness to the “Saint Siméon meetings,” when Boudin, a child of the country, trained Monet and the others from their small group during neverending discussions, and when these same men drank apple brandy during breaks from their painting.

The beautiful rooms still exist today, which means you can sleep in the room that once belonged to Monet (No. 22) or the one that served as Corot’s studio (No. 19). Both artists were particularly attached to their rooms. Monet’s was bathed in light, which shone into one window and out another, while Corot’s was his place of work and rest, and featured a huge corbel window which allowed him to monitor every little change in the hues of his beloved Estuary...A great source of enchantment for these artists, a stay at the Inn is the perfect way to follow in their footsteps, to let yourself be dazzled and pampered by a one-of-a-kind experience...

While there, enjoy a painting class with a native Honfleur artist who is enamored by the sublime luster of this meticulously preserved little port.

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Take some time out of your busy schedule to treat yourself to a restful vacation at this timeless farm basked in an incomparable luminosity which so many eyes, light and dark, have admired in its purest form...

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