The Belle Epoque
In the 19th century, this tranquil spot so close to Paris attracted a number of literary figures (Dumas fils wrote “The Lady of the Camellias” here and Turgenev, etc.) and artists (A. Renoir, C. Monet, A. Sisley, J.L. Gérôme, P. Viardot and G. Bizet who composed “Carmen”, etc.) who would occasionally spend time here.
The La Jonchère hillside borders the valley of Bougival and is inseparable from this artistic microcosm. It overlooks the Seine opposite Croissy from which it is separated by the Island of La Chaussée.
In 1830, Turner spotted the beauty of the location and sketched the motley crowd of people waiting for the ferryman to take them over to Croissy.
Alexandre Dumas fils met Marie Duplessis here, whom he immortalised under the name of Marguerite Gautier in “The Lady of the Camellias”.
Later, it is to Monet that we owe the view of the bridge all flecked with sunlight.
This literary set of landscape painters would sit at Souvent’s (the future restaurant of the Hôtel de l’Union).
Corot and his friends, Célestin Nanteuil, the boating patriarch, and Louis Français, who claimed to be “a student of Bougival”, began this craze.
The years 1869-1870 brought together a whole host of impressionists between La Jonchère and Voisins, a hamlet in Louveciennes. On the hillside, the lands belonging to Bougival and Louveciennes overlap with each other in the chestnut grove of La Celle Saint-Cloud, the theme of Sisley’s first paintings in 1865.
Monet was to spend 15 months in St-Michel in Bougival, a hamlet from where the river could be reached in quarter of an hour.
During the summer of 1869, Renoir spent most of his time at Monet’s, because he lived close to his parents.
The war with Prussia followed by the confrontations between the Commune and the government in Versailles hit this fortunate suburb head on.
Abandoned houses were looted.
Post-war Bougival became once more a mixture of artists of all allegiances, including the Italian Giovanni Boldini and Jean-Léon Gérôme, an official celebrity in the Salon, whose property is situated on quai Boissy d’Anglas.
Georges Bizet composed “Carmen” in his house beside the Seine, where he would die shortly after.
Another seductive personality in the musical world, Pauline Viardot, settled in Les Frênes in 1876. Her faithful admirer, the novelist Ivan Turgenev, had a dacha built in the grounds which was soon swarmed with the dazzling Russian community from Paris. The most impressionist of the Slavic writers, Turgenev left images behind that neither Sisley, nor Monet, nor Morisot would disown. “In order to work I must have winter, a frost such as we have in Russia, an astringent cold, the trees all covered with crystals”.
For Berthe Morisot, who spent the summer months in Bougival (1881-1884), this was to be the happiest time of her life, as she confided to her daughter when she discussed this period. There was little Julie, with her father and her nanny, Pasie, sometimes fascinated by a story, sometimes engrossed in a game.
The Bougival of Berthe Morisot was inspired neither by the topography nor society life; it was an atmosphere in which the lustre of flowers, the velvety softness of haystacks and the selfish charm of childhood erased periods of bereavement.
Renoir with his “Dance at Bougival” would brush aside the waves of sadness to attach to this name forever the idea of eternal merriment.