Painting & Playing in Provence, France

Awww…Paris. Rich in history dating  back more than two millenia, Paris has attractions sufficient to last a lifetime.

But for me – the deep blue of a Provincial sky, the aroma of fresh baked bread and lavender fields floating on warm breezes beckoned me into the French countryside of Provence.

My daughter and I were fortunate enough to organize a painting trip with a wonderful group of ladies. After many years of studying the French Impressionists, I have always dreamed of painting in France. Our tour de France started with four art filled days in Paris.  After, we flew onto Marseilles where we rented cars and drove up to Bonnieux, Provence.  French driving laws differ from those in other countries – we learned this the hard way!


After a two hour “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” driving experience, my daughter and I were pleased to find our country home with a quaint room with a view.  Our French doors opened up to  newly planted lavender fields which stretched out and pointed the way toward beautiful Bonnieux.  The charming medievalvillage, complete with a bell tower that chimes on the hour, was built ages ago into the side of a small mountain that overlooks estates and country homes with fields of lavender, sunflowers, and poppies.  ash-in-a-field-of-poppies2


Bonnieux looks like something right out of a fairy tale. It felt as though we were stepping back in time, but don’t letthe rustic exterior of the buildings fool you! Once inside, the village abounds with sophisticated shops, restaurants galleries and glamorous tourists.

Each day, a unique neighboring village hosts street markets where local vendors proudly display and sell their treasures. These daily markets became so alluring that my fellow painting partners often decided to skip painting!



The French love food and are very creative in their mealtime presentations. We enjoyed lunch after a long morning of shopping.

Each day I managed to take time for some great outdoor painting.  If there was not time to use my oils, I would quickly do a sketch with my handy little Sennelier watercolor travel box. I enjoyed wandering aimlessly throughout the countryside in search of inspiration which was never lacking.  It is interesting to note that the lighting is somewhat diffused and cooler than the Rocky Mountain skies.  After painting the French skies, I now understand why Monet chose to use Cobalt Blue rather than warmer Ultra Marine Blue for his palette.

starting-a-painting1 For convenience, I used my pochade box with canvas pads taped to piece of cardboard. This made it easy to pack for painting and travel.



My daughter and I discovered that the movie, “A Good Year” starring Russel Crowe, was filmed at a beautiful neighboring chateau just a mile down the road. Because of the popularity of the movie, the old estate has become famous and even has its own winery label now.


Another point of interest only a mile away from Bonnieuxis the medieval village, Lacoste.  During those times, the Marquix fancied Lacosteas a destination for thespians, which was a foreshadowing of things to come.  Local folklore says that the whole village was abandoned during WWII and sold for about $500 dollars to a wealthy man.


Then in 1970, an American art professor and painter, Bernard Pfriem started The Lacoste School of the Arts which is now run by the Savannah College of Art and Design.


The image to the left shows an example of the creative remodeling that has been used at the Lacoste School of the Arts.  An ancient ‘bread oven’ is now used as a student lounge. Towering above the village, the ruins of the  castle were bought and turned into a private residence by fashion designer Pierre Cardin in 1990. Since then musicaland theatrical arts have been preformed there. For over 30 years The Lacoste School of the Arts has infused a worldly artistic sense to the village.

It was a challenge to decide where to go the next day because there are so many interesting places to visit within driving range. I felt like a kid with only minutes left in a candy store!

I will remember the sounds of the crickets and the laughter during al fresco dining with my daughter and friends at the end of a wonderful French day.  The trip flew by too quickly but, I have many wonderful memories and pictures that will last a lifetime.

There is a special quality about the plein air painter.  These qualities set us apart from others.  We move through life, not passing negligenty by, but stopping to know and record what we see with a box of oils and a small canvas. We look and hunt for what we love and we try our best to capture it.  Those who are not lookers or hunters do not see the things we see. Like a hunter, we are keenly aware of our surroundings.  This how we  understand a place.  Our sketches serve that purpose.


Au revoir et salut ~ Lori

I’d love to meet on Facebook and Twitter! ~Lori (or if you want see more of my paintings)

You might like to read:

My Day at the Louvre Museum

How to Choose Better Subject Matter for Your Art

6 Tips for a Stress Free Sketchbook

A Dynamic Animal Oil Painting Demo by Phil Beck

Water Soluble Oil Paints: Facts, Tips & Why I Use Them

Turn an Altoid Box into a Mini Watercolor Set

Water Soluble Oil Paints: Facts, Tips and Why I Use Them

10 Motivating Tips for the Outdoor Painter

2013-12-05T12:25:58+00:00June 1st, 2009|Art Travels, General, Misc. Articles, Plein Air|14 Comments


  1. Patrick June 3, 2009 at 6:03 am

    Hello Lori, I can just imagine what you think about french drivers if your first experience was in Marseille 🙂 Driving in this city looks crazy also for most of french people.

  2. Joan A Hamilton June 11, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    What a wonderful trip! Thanks for the peek in! Joan

  3. Jennifer Beaudet November 7, 2009 at 9:59 am

    What a wonderful trip that must have been! Thank you for sharing it. I’ll keep dreaming about the day I can do the same!:)Thank you for all the great information and insight you give. I’m really enjoying it all!

    • Lori McNee December 7, 2009 at 11:09 am

      Hi Jennifer – Thanks for visiting my site & Provence with me! I appreciate your visit…

  4. Celia November 15, 2010 at 3:51 am

    I love the scketches you did and agree with you on the French light-it is particular.Did you use just watercolors in your plen air sketch or some other medium as well?

    • Lori McNee November 15, 2010 at 3:06 pm

      Hi Celia-

      The little sketches in the article were all painted with water soluble oils. I really like these oils for travel…
      Thanks for taking time to comment on this post. It was an amazing time and I hope to return to France again someday.


  5. Manny January 16, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    Your experiences brings me back to the number of times I’ve been to the south of France (as well as the north). I’ve tried to do some sketching in Cannes and Villefranche, but eventually I’d end up just wandering around the cobblestone streets and smelling the scents of lavender soaps etc . This would be followed by a nice lunch of Provencal roast chicken with white wine and french bread, ending with a scrumptious slice of tarte a cerises (that’s cherry pie, French style) and an espresso. I discovered this thick, rich fish soup in a Villefranche that you just sop up with garlic french bread and it’s the best lunch you can ever have. Wait! This is an art blog, not a foodie one! Sorry, just got carried away. But art and food go together, more so in the South of France (and the Mediterranean for that matter). Here’s my account of my visit to the Chagall and Matisse museums in Nice.

  6. A August 14, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    Hi Lori

    I enjoyed reading about your time in Provence and your sketches are lovely too. I love the colours. I started painting about eight years ago It crept up on me and now I paint every day ! I paint in oil mainly still life and flowers and ceramics in particular..I love Corot Delacroix Manet and go to galleries regularly.Your site is helpful and I will take up the tip to try oil free paint but I am lucky enough to be able to throw open my patio doors to avoid problems with paint smell health worries etc

    Thankyou for your tips Lori

    Ann Marie

    • Lori McNee October 24, 2013 at 10:01 pm

      I love those same artists too. Thanks for enjoying this post. I loved that trip and it is fun to take a quick visit to France again every time I see this post! Glad you stopped by.

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