Where 8 Famous Artists Loved to Go on Vacation
La maison-musée Salvador Dali, Spain. Photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra via Flickr.
Science has spoken: Vacations are good for creativity. Brain imaging reveals that relaxing and letting your mind wander actually triggers alpha waves in the brain, a vital ingredient for innovative thoughts. Positive emotions like joy and contentment—often sparked by a good vacation—foster outside-the-box thinking and inventiveness.
Artists are no exception to these rules. For the likes of Paul Klee and Georgia O’Keeffe, holiday getaways served as the catalyst for major breakthroughs in style and subject. For Pablo Picasso and Berthe Morisot, they were periods of extreme productivity.
But where, you might wonder, did they actually go? Overwhelmingly, to the beach—along the Côte d’Azur, the Costa Brava, Cape Cod, and even Hawaii. From Massachusetts to Tunisia, here are the favorite vacation spots that influenced eight famous artists.
Pablo Picasso and Francoise Gilot on holidays, 1949. Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images.
Pablo Picasso first ventured to the French seaside town of Juan-les-Pins in the summer of 1920, accompanied by his then-wife, Olga. Over the following years, the Spanish painter continued to vacation along the Côte d’Azur (though he eventually traveled there with another lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter). This summer tradition was stalled by the start of World War II, however.
Picasso wouldn’t return until 1946, the year he left his most lasting mark on the region. For two months that fall, he took up residence with his new lover, Françoise Gilot, in the tiny village of Golfe-Juan. Their days were spent lounging on picturesque beaches; at night, Picasso retreated to a makeshift studio in the medieval Château Grimaldi in nearby Antibes. He worked at a furious pace, producing 23 paintings and 44 drawings in total—the entirety of which he donated to the château, making it the first museum dedicated to the artist.
Berthe Morisot, Sur la Plage, 1873. Courtesy of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Each summer, the Impressionists flocked to northern France, where the likes of Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro captured the cliffs, beaches, and Gothic cathedrals dotting the region. Berthe Morisot was no exception. For her (and her sister Edna), the summer holiday was an excuse to trade Parisian social obligations for plein air painting. One year, they hiked through the Pyrenees; the next, they were lured by a fellow painter to set up shop in a village along the Oise River.
One of the family’s favorite vacation spots was Fécamp, a beach town in Normandy. Morisot memorialized the beach of Les Petites Dalles in an 1873 painting, capturing vacationing figures as they strolled along the boardwalk. The next summer at Fécamp would be a significant one for the painter’s personal life: Édouard Manet’s brother, Eugène, proposed to Morisot as the two painted side-by-side at a naval construction site.
Hawaii, United States
Georgia O'Keefe in Hawaii, 1939. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
In 1938, the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (today known as Dole) offered GeorgiaO’Keeffe an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii. In return, she was asked to produce two paintings for use in an advertising campaign. Lured in part by the slick travel brochures she’d been sent, the artist eventually accepted the company’s invitation; she arrived in Honolulu on February 8, 1939. Hawaii introduced O’Keeffe to a host of new experiences: dining on raw fish, donning thonged sandals, strolling along black-sand beaches. By the end of her nine-week trip, she was thoroughly enchanted by the islands (if not by the pineapple she was supposed to be painting—the company was aghast to find she had returned to the U.S. with a number of canvases, none of which depicted that particular fruit).
“I have always intended to return,” O’Keeffe later wrote to her friend Ansel Adams. “I often think of that trip at Yosemite [with you] as one of the best things I have done—but Hawaii was another.” She would visit twice more: In 1959, she stayed in Honolulu en route to southeast Asia, and in 1982, at 94 years old, she returned to Häna.
Lake Attersee, Austria
Gustav Klimt with his friends at the Attersee lake, 1907. Photo by Imagno/Getty Images.
Although Gustav Klimt is best known for his glimmering portraits of Viennese high society, his oeuvre also includes approximately 50 known landscapes. A vast majority of these (more than 45, in fact) were painted along Lake Attersee, his summer retreat for more than 15 years. “It is terrible, awful here in Vienna,” Klimt once complained to a friend. “Everything parched, hot, dreadful, all this work on top of it, the ‘bustle’—I long to be gone like never before.” So, in the tradition of sommerfrische—established in the 19th century by Habsburg emperors taking advantage of a newly constructed railway system—the artist traded the sweltering city for the lake-filled Austrian countryside.
There, he donned flowing, floor-length robes and spent his days trekking through the foothills or rowing on the lake. The locals dubbed him “Wood Goblin,” chuckling as he towed his painting supplies from one landscape to the next.
Salvador Dali. Photo by GAMMA/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.
Salvador Dalí was born in Figueres, along Spain’s Costa Brava, and spent his childhood holidays in the nearby fishing village of Cadaqués. Some of his earliest paintings—landscapes in the style of the Impressionists—capture the olive groves, white-walled buildings, and glittering waters of the picturesque seaside town.
It was there, during a 1929 stay at his family’s vacation home, that the 25-year-old Dalí met Gala—the woman who would become his wife and lifelong love. The couple soon settled there permanently, purchasing a fisherman’s cottage slightly north of the town that boasted an idyllic view of the Mediterranean. The Surrealist adored the village for its isolated location and its quality of light; he dubbed it “the best place in the world.”
Provincetown, Massachusetts, United States
Cape Cod National Seashore, 2014. Photo via Flickr.
Helen Frankenthaler first visited Provincetown in 1950, at age 21, studying for three weeks under Abstract Expressionist painter Hans Hofmann. When she returned a decade later, she herself was an established AbEx artist whose works had been acquired by the likes of the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney. She was also married to fellow painter Robert Motherwell, who had suggested the trip to Cape Cod in the first place.
From 1960 to 1969, the couple decamped to Provincetown each summer, trading the bustle of New York City for the quiet of their beach-side studios. Frankenthaler loved to swim, usually twice a day: once in the morning, before settling in to paint around 9 a.m., and then after lunch. “I understand how enamored she would have been of Provincetown, being near like-minded people—and also its sheer physical beauty,” recalled Motherwell’s daughter Lise, who spent her childhood summers in Provincetown with the couple. “It must have fed her artistic imagination unbelievably.”
Truro, Cape Cod
Edward Hopper owed his favorite vacation spot—and, perhaps, his career—to his wife, Josephine. A painter herself, she introduced her husband to Cape Cod in 1930. The couple rented homes there for a few years before Hopper decided to build a house in the quiet town of Truro. He adored the house and its light-filled studio overlooking the bay, spending almost half of his 84 summers there. In all, he painted more than 100 works of the Cape.
“In the early years he was prolific, he loved the Cape and the beautiful light, the beautiful vernacular architecture,” art historian Gail Levin said. “He doesn’t really paint many pictures of rolling sand dunes. He was attracted to the architecture.”
One of the most storied episodes in Paul Klee’s young life occurred during a vacation to Tunisia in 1914. Accompanied by fellow painters August Macke and Louis Moilliet, he spent two weeks traveling across the country, capturing what he saw in sketches and vibrant watercolors. At times, Klee found the foreign landscapes utterly arresting; in St. Germain, he was captivated by the full moon that hung over the city on Easter Sunday. “The evening is deep inside me forever,” he wrote in his journals. “Many a blond, northern moon rise, like a muted reflection, will softly remind me.”
During a visit to the city of Kairouan, Klee experienced a major artistic breakthrough. Already assured in his skill as a draftsman, he suddenly felt as though he understood color, too. “Color possesses me. I don’t have to pursue it,” he famously wrote. “That is the meaning of this happy hour: Color and I are one. I am a painter.” Although he never returned to Tunisia, he continued to set down images from that trip for years to come.