The weather this week has been the pits but that didn't stop me from making a day trip southeast of town to visit the chateau at Fontainebleau and the village of Barbizon. I'd been by the chateau before (but only in the garden)and while I knew it was big, I wasn't really prepared for how grand it was inside, in some ways even more impressive than Versailles. The design is a bit higgledy-piggledy since work on it began in the 11th century and continued into the 19th. In two hours, it was a crash course in French history: from Francois I, who brought the artistry of the Italian Renaissance to France right off to Napoleon who bid farewell to his army from the chateau's grand staircase before heading up to exile in Elba. And America's own General "Black Jack" Pershing made it the headquarters of the U.S. forces during World War I. Despite a relatively recent renovation, a few of the rooms were in a state of crumbling disrepair, making it crystal clear the tremendous effort and artistry it takes to keep such a place in top form.
Barbizon, a few minutes down the road, was on a completely different scale. The little village was quiet and charming midweek (although I can imagine it's pretty crowded on the weekend) and you can visit the atelier of Millet, a painter most famous for The Gleaners, and the Auberge Ganne, the boarding house where many of the Barbizon painters lived. Turned into a museum by the local government, the auberge has a modest collection of the work of Barbizon painters, mostly brooding landscapes with a few teeny tiny human figures emphasizing man's insignificance relative to nature. More interesting to me were a number of sketches and paintings on the walls in the sleeping quarters, found relatively recently under years of accumulated coats of paint.