IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF A MASTER | Renoir’s Forgotten Home, Essoyes
Deep in the heart of French Champagne country, nestled amongst the curious comfort of Champagne’s picturesque vineyards, alchemy is at play. A mélange of myth and truth, an interplay between fable and fabric… I can’t quite put my finger on it. Hotel Le Marius spoils me with a sumptuous selection of breads, cheese, and apricot and fig jams for breakfast, the offering strengthened, predictably enough, with a robust gathering of lean meats and cold cuts. Breakfast in this tiny parlour arrives with views to the towering cathedral, lying no more than an audible gasp away. Despite the influx of beauty, a strange restlessness continues to tug away at me. This restlessness rises in crescendo as we reach the village of Essoyes, an unhurried drive away. Because we’re now in Renoir country, and my heart is wide awake to every moment.
The impressionist master spent over thirty summers in this picture-perfect little village. It’s not hard to see why. As I walk in his footsteps, as I see the sights he once laid eyes on and duly put to paint, many lifetimes ago, as I imbue the significance of this place he spent the last years of his life in, the cumulative effect is nothing short of surreal. This sense of surrealism seems even greater in his home; it lies eerily quiet and filled with echoes from the past.
It’s as though I’ve stepped into a chapter of history that has never been opened up to the public, but soon will. The rooms lie still, hauntingly so. The garden surrounding the mansion flourishes with abundance. His private studio at the bottom of the garden, where a few of his stunning female portraits, a few scattered portraits of children, and a fleeting glimpse of his beloved muse and soulmate – Gabrielle – have been recreated to beautiful effect, is another fitting tribute to the near spiritual profundity of one Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The restlessness has abated, but the sense of beauty remains; it hovers above me, like a cherished halo.