In the footsteps of R.L. Stevenson from Barbizon to Grez-sur-Loing in the Fontainebleau area.

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The R.L Stevenson de Barbizon à Grez Association promotes the values of R.L Stevenson through his links with the Fontainebleau area and the artists' colonies in Barbizon and Grez-sur-Loing between 1875 and 1878.

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R.L.Stevenson de Barbizon à Grez
17 rue de la Boissière
77140, Moncourt-Fromonville
06 80 24 40 31

From Barbizon to Grez sur Loing, in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson

As in many places that the writer visited, traces of Robert Louis Stevenson remain in Grez sur Loing, carefully cherished among the 500 or so painters, writers, musicians who came to the artists’ colony of this village and whose association “Artistes du Bout du Monde”, founded by Claire Leray, kept the memory alive. In 2013, these memories found a stronger presence with the creation of the “Robert Louis Stevenson, from Barbizon to Grez” Association based in Recloses, a village on the forest trail from Barbizon to Grez.

Since 2013 this co-founding association of the European cultural route ‘In the footsteps of R.L. Stevenson’ has developped numerous activities including hiking:

Creation of a path linking the villages traveled by Stevenson, from Grez to Moret, from Moret to Fontainebleau, from Fontainebleau to Barbizon and return to Grez by Recloses and Franchard

  • Opening of a second route to Chatillon sur Loire, then now to Nevers, while waiting to reach the Cévennes
  • Every summer, since the health crisis, every week short discovery hikes
  • And, new for 2023, 4 literary hikes on the cusp of each change of season

But in recognition that Stevenson was not just a traveller the association offers other activities:

  • Treasure hunts for children and families,
  • The creation of a “Stevenson” rose bush, to plant on paths and in villages
  • Readings and meetings with authors, specialists on Stevenson and his contempories
  • Restoration of canoes of the type ‘perissoirs’
  • Conferences on the writer and his work
  • A website and regular gazettes for members
  • The distribution of works by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • The creation in 2023 of a reading circle: reading Stevenson aloud

Link with Robert Louis Stevenson

Come to Grez sur Loing

When, in April 1875, Robert Louis Stevenson at the age of 25 first came to the Fontainebleau region it was not his first trip outside the United Kingdom. From the age of 13 he accompanied his parents or his mother to the Côte d’Azur, Germany, Italy or Belgium in search of better climate for the health of mother and Louis. Whilst he was not yet a well-known writer he had written quite a lot. He had renounced becoming an engineer, a lighthouse builder, like his father, or a lawyer despite his law studies. Instead, he chose to join his cousin Bob in Paris where he discovered the Latin Quarter and the bohemian life of Paris.

From Paris to Fontainebleau, then to the Auberge Siron at Barbizon (today called the Hôtel du Bas-Bréau ) he followed the path of many painters and artists who met in the Inns and painted outdoors. From Barbizon, you just have to cross the forest of Fontainebleau to reach the village of Grez sur Loing, the Chevillon pension, artists’ colony, and especially the banks of the Loing. Yes, there is water in Grez sur Loing !

The younger years of an author

During the five years from 1875 to 1880, Stevenson continued to write articles that were preludes to future essays such as “An appeal to the Clergy of the Church of Scotland” published in the Cornhill Magazine in May 1876, or “On the enjoyment of Unpleasant Places” or even “the apology for idleness”. The forest of Fontainebleau was a great source of inspiration for him during this period. These articles grouped together in a bilingual book “Forest Notes” published by Pôles d’images in 2003, begins with a praise of the forest: “The charm of Fontainebleau is a thing apart. It is a place that people love more than they admire… The place is sanative; the air, the light, the perfumes, and the shapes of things concord in happy harmony.”

Stevenson à Barbizon
Stevenson à Barbizon

Many works by Stevenson quickly followed. Most often following travels such as “Inland voyage”, then “Travels with a donkey in the Cévennes”. Great works like “Treasure Island” and “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” were already in the making.

Fanny, love of a short life

Fanny Osbourne left San Francisco to study drawing in Belgium with her three children, Isobel, Loyd and little Harvey, but above all to get away from a husband whose taste for adventure she could no longer stand. She came to Paris where women were accepted in the artists’ academies. But whilst in Paris Harvey died in terrible suffering. Exhausted, at the end of her strength, she followed the recommendations of friends and a doctor to come to Grez where she stayed at ‘Pension Chevillon’. When they met in Grez Stevenson fell in love with Fanny; married, mother and 10 years his senior. The couple met again in 1877 and 1878 in Grez and Paris. In 1878 Fanny returned to San Francisco to negotiate her divorce. Stevenson thought he would not see her again and embarked on a trip to the Cévennes. He then left Europe for the United States in 1880 and eventually married Fanny in California. The couple returned to Europe via Scotland and then to Davos. They returned to France in 1881, then made long journeys to the Pacific Islands, settling in Samoa until the writer’s death in 1894.

The time for new voyages.

Several trips punctuated Stevenson’s stays in the Fontainebleau region often with his friend Walter Simpson. At the end of July 1875, Stevenson was staying in the Fontainebleau area with Simpson and they decided to go walking along the river Loing towards the river Loire. Arriving in Chatillon sur Loire, Stevenson was suspected of being a Prussian spy and then spent a few hours in prison. The arrival of Simpson allowed the misunderstanding to be resolved and the writer to be freed. Then there was the great canoe adventure with his friend Walter Simpson from Antwerp to Pontoise in two canoes La Cigarette and l’Aréthuse arriving on 16th September 1876. From Pontoise, the two friends travelled by train to Grez sur Loing where Stevenson met Fanny. The account of the Antwerp-Pontoise voyage was and published as “Inland voyage”.

Stevenson’s most famous journey remains ‘Travels in the Cévennes with a donkey”. On August 15, 1878, Fanny left France to return to the USA. Stevenson cannot bear the separation. He left for the Cévennes, and starting from Monastier set off with the donkey Modestine towards Saint Jean du Gard arriving on 3rd October. He sells Modestine and returns to England. At the beginning of August 1879, he joined Fanny in San Francisco and settled with her in Monterey.

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