Lyonnais Landscapes

Lyonnais Landscapes

Wednesday, November 20, 2013 - 14:13

I decided to go for a bike ride today. I wasn't going to, because it has been freezing cold, but the big, blue sky and fear that I might not see the sun for the next five months convinced me otherwise. My ride was glorious. Numb feet and brain freeze were forgotten as I gawked at the countryside. Lyon came to life as the late afternoon sun washed everything in its golden light, and I became inspired to write about the landscapes that have influenced my work these last 9 months. 

At the start of this year, Colline and I housesat a home in Saint Priest, a south-eastern suburb of Lyon bordering the countryside. Unfortunately for its residents, Saint Priest and its immediate surrounds have been turned into a large industrial area. The landscape is dominated by factories, quarries and trucks in all shapes and sizes doing all sorts of things (including parking on roundabouts for lunch at the local roadhouse), and you can't help but think that this part of France must have been prettier thirty years ago. 

The scenery drastically improves, however, as you head across this area and come out the other side. Large, congested highways are done away with for an intricate network of narrow lanes. Boring flats are replaced by a series of short, steep hills and valleys, covered with fields and farmhouses. It is the sort of typically French countryside you imagine when you think about France. It was also the inspiration for my first Lyonnais landscape; a painting of a wood heap I came across on a rare sunny day in late February. (See painting at the top: "February Wood Heap")

Over the other side of the city, where we now live, the hills get serious. To the west lie the Monts Lyonnais, a low-lying range of mountains forming the eastern edge of the Massif Central, while to the north sit the Monts D'or, mecca for local cyclists and home to lots of well-to-do folk with large houses and four wheel drives.  So far I have only managed to stuff-up paintings of these areas. I have had more success, however, just north of the Monts D'or, in the famous Beaujolais wine region.  

The Beaujolais is one of those stupidly beautiful areas France is so famous for. The hills seem improbably blue, the grass too green. It is a rolling patchwork of lakes, vines, castles and cows, flecked with golden-stoned villages crowning the hillside. The Beaujolais is so pretty that painting it should be tackled carefully, lest you fall into cliché-ridden compositions. 

My own attempt was inspired by a bike ride just south of the Beaujolais, in which the road, having crested a gentle climb, fell away to the right, exposing a sweeping view. It was summer, and I was captivated by the way in which the heat haze changed the landscape. Everything shimmered. The most distant hills seemed to evaporate into the sky, whilst large trees in the foreground appeared slightly out of focus. 

There still remains much exploring for me to do around Lyon and its surrounding regions. I have heard lots about the Vercors to the south, with its gorges and caves, and I am yet to visit the Alps in the east. And of course I hope that these adventures and the landscapes I discover will inspire many new paintings! 

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