Posted by: Brad Nixon | February 1, 2019

A Painting Led Us There: Bordighera, Italy

Much of North America is locked in a dire, deep winter. Some of you in the southern hemisphere are enduring blistering temperatures and wildfires.

This is when we pull out the map or the old travel photos or flip through the art books in search of some idyllic respite. One infallibly inspirational artist I rely on is Claude Monet. In his long career, he painted a wide variety of subjects and settings. Invariably he had a gift for portraying light, and his paintings make us wish we could stand THERE, right where he stood.

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Bordighera by Claude Monet, 1884

That painting, “Bordighera,” from 1884, depicts a town on the Ligurian coast of Italy where Monet lived for a time.

It’s raining, thundering, lightning in southern California today, so let’s go to Bordighera for some halcyon, sunny days. Let’s stand where Monet stood, and see if we can find the light he saw.

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Bordighera was a popular seaside resort in Monet’s era, as it is today. On a trip some years ago, we determined we’d make Bordighera one of our stops, inspired to see that landscape suffused with light the old master painted a number of times.

The Town

There are about 10,000 people in Bordighera, although the population swells during the tourist season. It still has something of the rather staid, respectable seaside resort character it’s had since the Edwardian era.

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Steep hills climb up from the coast, and the Medieval old town occupies a prominent position above the traffic and bustle of shops and stores. That’s the scene Monet painted from up in the hills, and you can still see a similar view today. Not quite the way he saw it in the painting above, but it’s there under the Mediterranean sun.

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To get there, you climb up into the old city and wend your way through the streets and piazzas, along old brick and stone lanes.

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The Painters

Bordighera takes note of its heritage as a venue favored by Monet and other painters.

As you walk the tree-shaded streets, you’ll encounter signs depicting paintings from about the spot Monet and other artists painted them. You have the opportunity to compare the view with that of 140 years ago.

Here, painted from down in the “new” town, looking up at the old one, is Monet’s “Moreno Gardens at Bordighera” — Jardin Moreno à Bordighera — and its present-day appearance.

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Is that what Monet saw? One never knows to what extent an artist like Monet was recording and what he was inventing. That’s part of the fun. He was determined to give us his impression of the place.

Bordighera’s resort accommodations then and now included expansive villas. We stayed in one, Villa Elisa, located with a number of the vacation venues along the Via Romana a quarter-mile uphill from the coast.

Monet painted the scene in a day before automobiles. Whether or not differences in landscaping gave him the following view of the surrounding hills is impossible to say. He wasn’t making photographs, after all; he was painting an impression.

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Bordighera won’t be to every traveler’s taste, but it offers a variety of experiences ranging from ancient architecture and a fading way of life in an ancient hilltop town to a spectacularly lively and stunningly lovely stretch of beach.

At night, wander the old town, where restaurants that feature the local seafood are tucked into the piazzas.

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In addition to the town’s shops and stores, the strikingly beautiful beach, there’s a lovely park, Piazza de Amicis, occupying a former fortress, with lovely shaded walks overlooking the Mediterranean.

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Drawn there by the master’s hand and eye, we found the light shining down on Bordighera. We stood where he stood, and — a long time after he was there — saw what he saw.

It’s important to look … to see.

Stop, breathe. The light is shining down. What do you see?

Have you made a pilgrimage to a place made famous in a work of art? Leave a comment.

For more about Bordighera, see “To the Ligurian Coast: Bordighera” at this link.

40 km to the east is the charming, ancient city of Villefranche-sur-Mer at this link.

© Brad Nixon 2019. Some photographs © M. Vincent 2019, used by kind permission. Bordighera by Claude Monet © the Art Institute of Chicago. Jardin Moreno à Bordighera by Claude Monet © The Norton Gallery and School of Art. Villas à Bordighera by Claude Monet © Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

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Responses

  1. My daughter and I were just admiring this painting at the Art Institute in Chicago last weekend! I love that you were inspired to see Bordighera because of it, a fantastic motivation for travel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s an outstanding museum, and it’s been far too long since I’ve been there. I hope you got in and out of Chicago before the cold descended.
      That’s a happy coincidence, that you’ve just seen the painting.
      The Counselor gets the credit for discovering the painting for us. She painted a copy of it that hangs in the living room, so I see it every day. We wanted to see the Ligurian coast en route to Villefranche, Nice and Vence, to see the old haunts of Matisse, Chagall and others, so it made sense to add M. Monet to the trip.
      We were charmed by Bordighera, hope to return, but also to explore more of the region.

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      • Grandissima, brava Counselor! I found the Ligurian coast to be quite exquisite.

        We thoroughly enjoyed the museum and did escape Chicago on Sunday but had to leave my college son there to battle the storm. Seems like it’s settling down now, though. Tante belle cose!

        Liked by 3 people

      • Ah, that makes ANOTHER young Californian I know getting an introduction to life in the frozen upper Midwest this winter! There are several. One of the world’s great cities, so I’m pleased he’s getting the chance to be there. No SoCal kid can imagine how many clothes are necessary until they’ve actually experienced it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The Counselor has one of her paintings in her most recent blog post, a Cezanne still life: myeclecticcafe.wordpress.com.
        So, what school? Northwestern? U. Chicago? A great town for a young person.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Excellent, I didn’t know she was blogging too! UChicago is keeping him busy…he is enjoying the city.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I have! On some of my trips to France, I went on the Route of the Painters walking tours (self guided with maps) around the Ile de France, i.e., Bougival, Marly-le-Roi, and Louveciennes. Along the routes would be posted a descriptive sign with a copy of a painting done by one of the Impressionists.

    Your comparison of the paintings and recent photos is very cool. Thanks so much.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, your tours of those places was foremost in my mind, and admirable examples of what what one might see!

      Like

      • Merci!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Bordighera is delightfully demodé, these days. It used to be the go-to-place, together with other such places as Chiavari, Arma di Taggia, Alassio, Laigueglia and so on, for much of Northern Italy. I had uncles and aunts who spent there the whole winter, sojourning in some hotel. Good memories!

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a treat to have a personal reminiscence from you. Thanks very much.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice town, and interesting photos/ paintings. The impressionists were really interested in lighting effects, and since photography was new, they tried to capture the essence of light more in the way of how a camera captures it.

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    • Absolutely right. It’s all about the light — for painters and photographers. I’m sure there must be books and scholarly articles about the influence or lack thereof between the two media. Cezanne was born in a world before photography existed, although it had a strong presence during Monet’s long career. I don’t know how aware they were — or how much they cared –about the role of light for the camera. Thanks for the comment.

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  5. A charming city. Monet chosе a good place for staying and working.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Simply beautiful Brad. I too have a fondness for traveling to places inspired by artwork and a soft spot for Monet’s use of color and light, so this was a thrilling journey to take with you, especially as I hadn’t known Monet had painted in Italy! I love the way you compare some of his paintings of the area with the actual location as seen by you. I spent a long time in southern France doing the same for a book and this brought back fond memories of that research.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. OMG that’s so cool that your trip was influence by a painting! I wish I have had this experience with art unfortunately mine has been influenced via social media haha! Modern world I guess. I need to go to a museum soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Some Zen masters have almost certainly said something along the lines of, “There are many paths to knowledge.” Whatever gets you there seems fine to me, so long as one goes mindfully. Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes agree 100% balanced life is for sure a path I try to stay on.

        Like


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