Honfleur: The Lieutenance from the Inner Harbor


A Normandy fishing village over a thousand years old, Honfleur is located on the west side of the mouth of the Seine opposite LeHavre. Having survived the ravages of successive wars, the port is an eyeful of preserved architectural gems, from the Lieutenance, called so because the king’s lieutenant’s residence was built above its fortification, to the town’s ornate gateway, to the tall narrow buildings surrounding the inner harbor and the unique bell tower of St. Catherine’s Church.

The main reason artists are attracted to Honfleur, of course, is its tremendous wealth of subject matter all within just a few minutes’ walk. There is hardly a single name in the list of prominent painters of the mid-nineteenth century who have not painted in Honfleur – Monet, Whistler, Courbet, Millet, Truner, the Barbizon painters Corot, Harpignies and Daubigny – whether it be St. Catherine’s Church with its wooden bell tower or the port and its surrounding buildings. The town is perhaps best remembered for its varied and scudding skies. Because Honfleur is located on the north coast, and with the constant weather changes the clouds are nearly always on the move making the variety of composition endless.

Painted on location, this view of Honfleur shows a stone building above which to the left is the historic Lieutenant’s residence. This group of buildings stands well back from the inner harbor’s stone wall where steps lead down to the water’s edge. Two old sloops were in just the right position for the composition and give an important subsidiary feature to the painting. At the right are the lock gates, which at high tide are opened briefly to allow for arrivals and departures. The sky on this day was perfectly pleasing.

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