When you think of French landscape paintings, what comes to mind? Perhaps prints of the Eiffel Tower in Paris or picturesque villages nestled in the countryside. While these are certainly iconic images of France, they don't tell the whole story. There is a side of France that is just as beautiful. Southern France is home to artists who paint scenes of rolling hills blanketed in lavender, sun-drenched vineyards, and ancient olive groves. If you're looking for a taste of Provence without leaving your home, take a look at some of the paintings by artists John Dyer and Joanne Short, painted while on several trips to Provence and the surrounding area, including during their honeymoon. In this blog artist Joanne Short talks about her experience of painting in the South of France.
Our History of painting in Provence
In 1997 John and I were married - that is a whole 25 years ago in September. Where did that time go? In our search to find a honeymoon to suit our budget, in the very early days of the internet, I hasten to add, our inspiration came from photographs, historical paintings and literature about the Côte d'Azur and Provence. What better place to go than Nice, inspired by the post-impressionists Matisse, Chagall, Renoir, and Raoul Dufy, followed by a week in Provence, following in the footprints of artists such as Van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, and Signac. The style and genres of all these artists had always been an inspiration to both of us. So our honeymoon destination was decided!
Joanne Short and John Dyer enjoying their honeymoon in Nice, the South of France, 1997
Towns and villages we visited
As we wandered around the narrow streets of old Nice, with its pastel-coloured houses and cafes, I could imagine myself in a painting by Matisse. We surrounded ourselves with french art, visiting the Chagall Museum, The Matisse museum and the museum of modern art. We ate socca and drank chilled rosé wine and drew and painted watercolours inspired by painters of the past who had no doubt done the same.
Watercolour painting of Nice in John Dyer's sketchbook
Nice is a city located in southern France on the Mediterranean Sea. The city has a rich history that is reflected in its art. The city was originally founded by the ancient Greeks and has been occupied by a number of different civilizations over the years, including the Romans, the Byzantines, and the French. This diversity is reflected in the city's art, which includes painting, sculpture, and architecture from a variety of different periods.
One of the most famous painters from Nice is Henri Matisse. Matisse was born in 1869, and he spent much of his life living and working in Nice. He is best known for his paintings and sculptures, which often feature bright colours and abstract shapes. Some of his most famous works include the painting 'La Danse' and from his gouaches découpées 'The Snail'.
Another famous painter from Nice is Raoul Dufy. Dufy was born in 1877, and he also spent much of his life living and working in the city. He is best known for his paintings of landscapes and seascapes, which often feature bright colours and loose brushstrokes.
Dufy has always been a favourite of John's and he has been influenced greatly by his paintings. I, on the other hand, have always loved Matisse's paintings, especially his interiors looking through windows, which have influenced a lot of my later work.
Raoul Dufy, Baie des Anges, Nice
John Dyer, French Kiss, Nice
Both Matisse and Dufy were heavily influenced by the French landscape painting traditions of the eighteenth century and nineteenth century. These traditions were based on the idea that nature is a source of beauty, and that it can be a source of inspiration for artists.
Henri Matisse, Interior with Phonograph, Nice
Vence, St. Paul de Vence, Aix en Provence
We took the bus to St Paul de Vence, perched high on a hill above Cannes, where Chagall had his studio for many years. This village is full of french art and artists. Later we visited the Matisse Chapel in Vence, high on a hill overlooking the village below. This is a cool, quiet and relaxing space, away from the hustle and bustle of Nice and a place that will always remain close to our hearts. Vence is a medieval village in Provence, built on an outcrop overlooking the Mediterranean. The town of Vence was founded in Roman times and has impressive ramparts that surround it still today. We explored the narrow streets lined with ancient buildings, houses decorated with flower pots and shuttered windows. Many french artists have been inspired by the colour, light and architecture in this area of France, especially those working in the style of impressionism and post-impressionism.
Aix-en-Provence, a city full of fountains and squares and home to Cézanne for most of his life, is well worth a visit. Wandering around its narrow streets surrounded by typical old french architecture you will be transported to the era of the impressionist painters. Sitting majestically behind is the Mountaine Sainte-Victoire, made famous by the oil paintings by Cezanne - he painted it over 80 times in his lifetime. In fact, landscape painting in this area plays an important part in the history of french art.
If you want to visit the area where the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh lived, you should take a detour to Saint-Remy-de Provence and Arles where he cut off his ear after a disagreement with fellow artist and friend Paul Gauguin.
The colours and scenes of southern France have inspired artists for centuries, and their paintings remain some of the most iconic images of this beautiful region.
Provence - The Luberon and Vaucluse
We had heard so much about the beauty of Provence from friends who had visited before us and were not disappointed once we arrived. Peter Mayle's books like A Year in Provence and his other novels were particularly inspiring.
The Luberon, a majestic mountain range overlooking the Vaucluse Valley, is famous for its picture-perfect villages nestled between vineyards and lavender fields. The French Impressionists painted this area extensively including Van Gogh who lived there.
Joanne Short Painting. Purple Iris, Gordes, Provence. France. 12 x 12 inches oil on canvas
We explored the countryside around Gordes, Bonnieux, and Rousillon by car and headed further north to the winemaking area of Vaucluse where we were to fall in love with the landscape and beauty of the provencal villages nestling into the Dentelles and the smell of grapes being crushed during this, the winemaking season.
Limited Edition French Print by Joanne Short. View through the Sunflowers, Bonnieux, Provence
So much so that this has become our regular holiday destination; even after 25 years, we still visit this area and are always drawn to the same beautiful places.
Artists John Dyer and Joanne Short in Provence, France, 1997
Gigondas, Seguret and Rasteau
French Limited Edition Print by John Dyer. Under the Shade of the Olive Trees, Gigondas, France
Gigondas, Seguret, and Rasteau are a few of our favourite villages where we love to wander around the narrow streets, browse in the local markets and sit outside one of the many cafes with a glass of wine and enjoy some wonderful French food. For many years we have sat painting and drawing this stunning scenery. A small church in a cobbled square, a narrow street, a tiny school tucked away and small hillside gardens with olive trees and colourful flowers spilling over walls - elements and details captured in our subsequent drawings and paintings.
Sketchbook drawing, in pen, of Rasteau, Provence, by artist Joanne Short, 1997
French Art Poster Print of Provence, France by John Dyer.'A Night of Shooting Stars, Grape Harvest, Rasteau
This area is famous for its Côtes du Rhone wine and it's not hard to find a winemaker who will let you taste their latest vintage. The area is peppered with wine chateaux, many of which are open to the public and some have their own restaurants. The landscape in this area is filled with grapevines as far as the eye can see, laden with ripe juicy grapes at the beginning of September, which is when we first visited. Small tractors can be seen chugging along the narrow roads in relays, transporting the grapes to be crushed at the local cave.
John Dyer sketchbook watercolour of Gigondas, France, 1997
Vaison la Romain
Artists Joanne Short and John Dyer painting at Vaison la Romain in Provence 1998
Vaison la Romain, with its Roman ruins and bridge, is also well worth a visit - as are the many other villages in this area. There is also a spectacular provencal weekly market filling the town with sumptuous fruit and vegetable stalls and artisan crafts and fabrics which is a feast to the eye. Even after all these years the colour and smell of the market evoke memories of our first trip all those years ago.
Nyons is a small French town in the Drome region of Provence and is famous for its olives, olive oil, and truffles. It's also known as 'Little Rome', because of its mild climate, hot summers, and its Roman ruins scattered around the hillside. The historic centre has many old buildings including the Chateau de Nyons, the old hospital, and a beautiful 12th century church. The town is built on the banks of the Rhone river which flows down to Avignon.
French Print of Cherry Pickers, Nyons, Provence, France. Vintage Style Travel Poster by John Dyer
We discovered that the landscape around Nyons differed from the wine-growing areas and enjoyed drawing and painting the olive trees with their blue green leaves, laden with fruit.
Whilst in the Vaucluse area we were told not to miss Avignon, a town on the banks of the Rhone River. The Pope's Palace is well worth seeing, as are many other historic sites that are situated close by. Avignon is a city that has been an important place for many centuries.
Avignon hosts its own festival during the summer months and if you are lucky enough to visit at this time of year it is certainly worth seeing some of the shows on offer. The atmosphere in the town is electric with street performers on every corner.
Drawing and painting in Provence
We soon became immersed in this beautiful french landscape and couldn't help but start drawing and painting. We both filled pages in our sketchbooks with pen drawings and watercolours and couldn't wait to get back to the area with our canvases, oils, and acrylics.
Artist John Dyer holding a painting of the French landscape by Joanne Short and one of his own paintings of Provence
The following year we set off by car with the boot fully loaded, ready for a french painting experience. There were plenty of other countries around the world we were wanting to visit but at that moment we were both excited to capture on canvas what we had seen on our first trip.
Artist Joanne Short painting in Provence, 1997
Although John and I both paint in bright, happy colours, our styles are very different. I paint in oils and John in acrylic. However, we both love to immerse ourselves in nature and found ourselves sitting amongst the vines and under the shade of olive trees. We were joined by dogs, ants, and cats, and painted some of the most beautiful and fun artwork of our lives so far!
Artist John Dyer at Ferme La Gariguette in Rasteau where the artists stayed and painted
Artists Joanne Short and John Dyer with an oil painting by Joanne, Provence, 1998
I feel that during this trip I flourished and the work I created, with an emphasis on pattern and light, was almost a turning point in my working method. It became easy to see how the impressionist artists developed and painted in their plein-air style, famous worldwide, with the warmth of the sun drying the paint efficiently and the light lending itself to mixing clear bright colours to capture the atmosphere and landscape.
Artist Joanne Short (expecting her first child Martha-Lilly Dyer) with her collection of oil paintings of Provence in 1999
If you're looking for an escape to southern France through the eyes of an artist, take a look at our posters of France which showcase these iconic scenes. From Nice to Monaco and Bonnieux to Gigondas, we have a range of french posters and limited edition prints that will transport you right into the heart of this beautiful region.
We have many happy memories of our times spent painting in Provence and continue to be drawn back there every year - the colours, scents, and scenes are so evocative and always provide us with new inspiration. If you're looking for posters of France that showcase these beautiful scenes, look us up at johndyergallery.com where you will find paintings, limited edition prints, and a selection of art print posters available both framed and unframed.