Composer Edvard Grieg retreated daily to this picture-perfect studio on a Norwegian fjord. (Rick Steves / Rick Steves/ Europe)

Composer Edvard Grieg retreated daily to this picture-perfect studio on a Norwegian fjord. (Rick Steves / Rick Steves/ Europe)

Inside the homes of Europe’s top artists

From Dali to Monet, a trip to an artist’s home studio is a worthwhile part of your European journey.

As a traveler, I find myself visiting the homes of lots of dead people. Some are over the top (Louis XIV’s Versailles near Paris); some are haunting (Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam); others inspire you to write a poem (William Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage in England’s Lake District).

Many of my favorites are the home studios of artists — painters, sculptors, composers. There’s something about these special places that conjures the strange magic of creative work. Luckily for travelers, many have become museums that welcome visitors.

Perhaps the most high profile of Europe’s home studios is Claude Monet’s. The spiritual father of Impressionism, Monet spent 40 years cultivating his garden and his art at Giverny, 50 miles northwest of Paris.

Monet’s actual sky-lighted studio is now a gift shop, but the artist’s real workspace was his 5-acre garden. A master of color, Monet treated his garden like a canvas, choosing and planting his peonies, irises and lavender bushes for maximum effect. In turn, the flower beds inspired some of his most iconic artworks. He often painted “en plein air” — outside — sometimes on a footbridge that overlooked a Japanese-style pond choked with his precious water lilies. Strolling the pathways here is like witnessing an Impressionist painting come to life.

The concept of the artist’s studio got its start in the Renaissance, when established masters maintained art workshops and taught apprentices. When Florence’s city fathers started building a new cathedral in 1296, they founded the “Opera del Duomo,” or Cathedral Workshop, where the sculptures for the church and its bell tower were crafted (“opera” is the Italian word for “work”).

Renaissance greats, such as Brunelleschi (who designed the cathedral’s dome) and the sculptor Donatello, put in time there. Remarkably, the “opera” continues today within steps of the landmark cathedral, on the appropriately named Via dello Studio. Through the open doorway, you’ll see today’s masters sculpting replacement statues and restoring old ones to keep the cathedral’s art in good repair.

Over time, the typical studio became less a communal workshop and more a place of solo industry and reflection. Norway’s greatest composer, Edvard Grieg, maintained just such a classic artist’s retreat. He spent his last 22 summers, until 1907, at the Victorian-style home he called Troldhaugen, just outside Bergen. Quiet, lush and secluded, the dreamy setting was ideal for soaking up inspirational fjord beauty.

But the house was often bursting with family and friends. To counteract the constant hubbub, Grieg built a simple, one-room studio at the water’s edge, and every day he would lock himself inside to be sure he’d get something done. The cabin had everything he needed, and no more: an upright piano, a desk overlooking the water and a couch for naps. Gazing at his rustic desk, his little piano and the dramatic fjord scenery out the window, you can understand how Grieg’s music so powerfully evokes the natural wonder of Norway.

Artists as long ago as Rembrandt figured out that the studio could double as a sales room. When his career took off in Golden Age Amsterdam, the great Dutch painter moved to an expensive home with a well-lighted studio. He would paint his famous “Night Watch” here, among many other masterpieces.

The artist lined the walls floor-to-ceiling with his paintings, and then invited potential patrons in to browse. Opening up the studio turned out to be good for business, so much so that Rembrandt also had a small office to keep up with his paperwork. (He wasn’t terribly good at it, and eventually went bankrupt.)

Perhaps the most original home studio I’ve toured is Salvador Dali’s place near Cadaques, Spain. As a kid, Dali spent summers in this sleepy port, and the eccentric artist came back years later with his wife, Gala. Together, they built a labyrinthine compound that climbs up a hill overlooking the Mediterranean.

Like Dali’s art, his home is offbeat, provocative and fun. The eccentric ambience, inside and out, was perfect for a Surrealist hanging out with his creative playmate and muse. This place, and his partnership with Gala, became so important to Dali that when she died in 1982, he moved away and never returned. (He died in 1989.)

Whether you’re indulging in a fantasy in Dali-land or floating serenely above Monet’s water lilies, a trip to an artist’s home studio can be a memorable highlight of any trip to Europe.

— Tribune Content Agency

Talk to us

More in Life

Local artist Gabrielle Abbott with her mural "Grateful Steward" at South Lynnwood Park on Wednesday, April 21, 2021 in Lynnwood, Wash. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Lynnwood mural celebrates the Earth and those who care for it

Artist Gabriella Abbott will discuss “Grateful Steward,” her mural at South Lynnwood Park, in a virtual event April 22.

Peter Rivera and his band will perform April 24 at the Historic Everett Theatre. Rivera was the lead singer for 1970s hitmakers Rare Earth. (www.peterrivera.com)
With Everett gig, Peter Rivera celebrates another day of living

The Rare Earth lead singer and drummer headlines a show Saturday at the Historic Everett Theatre.

Photo by Kira Erickson/South Whidbey Record
Ron Rois, left, and his partner, Stefen Bosworth, are transplants from the Chicago area with roots in the Pacific Northwest. They are the owners of Langley's newest restaurant, Savory.
New Whidbey Island restaurant serves ‘eclectic comfort food’

Owners Stefen Bosworth and Ron Rois offer cozy dining overlooking Saratoga Passage.

The beer is flowing again at Snohomish County breweries as COVID-19 restrictions ease. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)
Drink This: Raise a pint to breweries that survived COVID-19

The Herald’s beer aficionado enjoyed a beer crawl from Everett’s At Large Brewing to 5 Rights in Marysville.

Shrimp scampi -- paired with an islandtini -- is a best seller at The Kitchen at the new Quil Ceda Creek Casino. (Quil Ceda Creek Casino)
Taste of Tulalip: Pair shrimp scampi with an islandtini

The Italian-American seafood dish is a best seller at The Kitchen at the new Quil Ceda Creek Casino.

Fattoush is a chopped Levantine salad made with stale pita. This includes shredded chicken tossed in a citrusy tahini-sumac dressing. (Gretchen McKay/Post-Gazette/TNS)
Eat This: Fattoush with chicken and tahini-sumac dressing

The Mediterranean salad is made with chopped lettuce, cucumbers, radishes and fried or baked pita bread.

When Transient Global Amnesia strikes, the past three months become hard to remember. (Jennifer Bardsley)
The Friday I forgot is one to remember

A sudden — thankfully, temporary — episode of memory loss gave me an opportunity to reflect.

John D. Osterman at 98 years old. (Jeanne-Marie Osterman)
An Everett native pays a poetic tribute to her father

“Shellback” is a collection of narrative poems honoring John D. Osterman, a lifelong Everett resident and WWII veteran.

Horizontal double headlights and an enormous grille are key players in the 2021 Genesis G80 redesign. (Manufacturer photo)
Genesis gains ground with 2021 makeover of G80 luxury sedan

It offers two new engines, top-notch design, zesty performance, blue-ribbon build quality and value.

Most Read