As most of you know by now, I have a special kinship with French Impressionist Pierre Auguste Renoir. It developed during a writing school I participated in at Essoyes, France where his wife was from. There among the golden hills of champagne vineyards, he maintained a studio, found inspiration and was laid to rest in the community cemetery.
His painting of Alphonsine has been my muse since I stayed in the room named after her – as one of his models – in the Hotel des Canotiers. But I didn’t expect him to follow me to my next writing retreat in Asheville, NC.
Many of the participating authors, editors and spouses, arrived at The Biltmore House through a caravan of vehicles and shuttles from the parking lot to the entrance. Another writer and I rented the headsets for the self-guided tour so we wouldn’t miss any important information.
As many times as I have been there, I didn’t pay attention to the two small gilt framed paintings in the Breakfast Room until yesterday. Entitled ‘Young Algerian Girl’ and ‘Child With an Orange’, the pair of Renoirs were keeping an eye on me.
“He’s following me,” I said to Denise, fellow author and new friend, “keeping an eye on me.” It’s as if he wanted to remind me of my writing connection to him and his great contribution to the arts.
The Vanderbilts were renown art collectors and George Vanderbilt’s love for French design shines throughout the interior as well as the exterior of the mansion. I shouldn’t have been surprised that he would have crossed paths with Renoir, and brought pieces of his creations back to the green hills of North Carolina.
I brought words back to NC from Paris, Troyes, and Essoyes – words that represent my artistry and expressionism – much like George brought impressionism back with him.
Of course, George Vanderbilt knew a thing or two about words as well. According to the audio tapes, he was named the nation’s most well-read man by a New York journalist. But who wouldn’t want to sit in the library beneath thirteen canvases that conjoin to form the magnificent ceiling painting that was created by Giovanni Pellegrini in the early 1700’s , and read from any of the twenty-three thousand tomes that George collected?
A day is hardly enough time to do it right. The house and grounds are magnificent – the best of Europe transported to the best of North Carolina. Few arrive here – past or present – and remain unphased by its grandeur. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton, John Singer Sargent, among others, found themselves inspired by it.
And so did I!
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