August approaches, and anyone who hasn’t left Paris may be looking for a way to get out of town to greener pastures, even if just for a day. While there are many options, there’s one place that has it all: the Maison Caillebotte. It’s not far from the city and easy to get to on the RER (suburban train line). Once you’re there, you can indulge in a wide variety of cultural and nature-related pleasures, all to be found in the large, leafy park, which was the country property of the marvelous Impressionist painter Gustave Caillebotte between 1860 and ’79.
To set the mood, pay a visit to the family’s handsome white house, with a columned portico that calls to mind the plantation mansions of the American South, but on a more modest level. Recently restored and redecorated with period furnishings, it seems the perfect setting for this well-off, talented family who, judging by Gustave’s paintings – some 80 of them made on this estate – enjoyed life with great gusto.
The former farm on the property is now home to a modern exhibition space, but an aviary near the entrance, home to some exotic poultry, is a reminder of its former function. Inside, it is currently hosting (through October 30, 2022) the show “Modernités Portugaises” (“Portuguese Modernity”) in honor of the Year of Portugal in France, a great opportunity to see works rarely shown here, by some of the country’s leading painters, including several works by one of my favorite painters, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva (1908-92). The best of this group is the beautiful “La Grande Chambre Bleue” (1951, pictured above), which manages to pull in the viewer in, in spite of its repeated pattern and limited color variations.
The other major star of this show is the prolific Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso (1887-1918), one of the country’s leading modernist painters, but there are many other gems by lesser-known Portuguese artists as well.
We went to the Maison Caillebotte especially to see that exhibition, but there was a surprise in store for us: another show, in the neoclassical Orangerie, of the works of Hans Reichel (1892-1958), a German artist who moved to Paris after World War I and was interned in France during the Second World War. Reichel, a modest man who went his own way artistically, seems to have been well-loved by his many friends among the artistic luminaries of the day, including Paul Klee, Rainer Maria Rilke, Vassily Kandinsky, Brassaï, Henri Miller and Lawrence Durrell. This show (through October 30, 2022) of 60 small, colorful, poetic watercolors with a light touch of Surrealism is a pure joy to see.
Back outdoors, there are plenty of other things to see and do. Canoes can be rented for skimming along the Yerres River, which runs along the edge of the property; Caillebotte often painted his brothers Alfred and Martial and others rowing here – who hasn’t seen the famous image of a rower in a top hat, for example?
The various fabriques (follies) on the property are also well worth visiting, including an amazing glacière, a 23-foot-deep underground ice storage structure built in the 18th century that not only produced ice for hot summer days but also preserved perishable foods. Near it is a tiny, adorable chapel, Notre-Dame du Lierre, built n 1864 by Martial Caillebotte père for his son Alfred, a priest.
The large potager (kitchen garden), which Caillebotte also loved to paint, can be visited when its volunteer caretakers are present. They are happy to explain the plants to you and even give you a few samples – we left with some bay leaves for our sauces and soups.
These and other fabriques are joined by attractions built by mother nature, a number of “remarkable” trees, which are watched over by an association devoted to their protection.
Depending on when you are there, you can dine in the on-site restaurant, L’Orée du Parc (01 69 45 47 78), or have dessert in the tearoom. Since the opening times are different for many of the attractions in the park, make sure to check the website before you go.
Finally, if you happen to be there on July 31, August 14 or August 28, 2022, from 3 PM to 7 PM, you can join the locals in dancing to a live orchestra at the annual guinguettes (open-air dances), held near the potager.
Making it even more appealing, there are no crowds to navigate, even on a recent summer Sunday afternoon. When you leave, you’ll feel like you have spent the day with friends who have the good luck to own the perfect property close to Paris.
Note: The property is accessible to those with disabilities.Favorite