The source at Fontaine-de-Vaucluse

There are some sketching experiences that are so special you know you will never forget them. This one happened to me back at the end of June in Provence where I taught a couple of week-long workshops. It was after a long day spent painting in the lavender fields and sketching around Roussillon. After returning to our home base in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, a few students joined me for an end-of-day sketching expedition up to the source of the Sorgue River. The town is famous for having this gouffre, a spring that is the largest in France and the fifth largest in the world, according to Wikipedia.

What is astounding about the town —and I may have mentioned this in a previous post — is that the water from this spring rushes all around it. In fact you can’t walk anywhere in the town without having some stream from the river gushing by you. It babbled by as we ate in various restaurants, it gurgled past as we picnicked in a park, and we even awoke to the sound of it every morning as a tributary ran right under our hotel (a former mill).

Our short expedition up to the source led us past much loud and quickly running water, which led me to believe that when we finally arrived at the much-anticipated gouffre, it would be some sort of torrent of water surging from a giant hole at the foot of a high cliff. But in fact it was nothing of the sort. The source at the end of the path is, surprisingly, a deep and very still pool, at least in summer. Nothing at all like what I was expecting.

This quiet pool can only be viewed from a distance — no doubt because of the many hazards of the deep water and the slippery rocks around it — but a low metal fence is no deterrent to most. We crossed it easily, as did most other tourists, and sat close by for a good sketching view.

For me there was something very eerie about that still water. I think all of us felt that way as we sketched, half expecting Gollum to emerge from its depths. We sketched in near silence for about an hour, stopping occasionally to compare techniques for capturing the green of the water or the opaqueness of the rocks. When our sketches were done and we got up to leave, I think we all felt we had shared something special.

If you are interested in going for a virtual dive to explore the depths of the source, here’s a link to a really cool site I just discovered. From there you’ll be able to see what I couldn’t while I was drawing. And if you don’t understand French, just click on “Lancer la visite” to start your tour.


19 Comments on “The source at Fontaine-de-Vaucluse”

  1. Donna says:

    So glad you pursued this!! Looks like some supernatural spot. And the video was wonderful photography. Glad none of you had any mishaps.


  2. Christine says:

    Sketching the source with you in Fontaine de Vaucluse is the most memorable sketching experience I’ve had. (And it was a truly memorable week of sketching experiences!) But, as you said, we sat in silence captivated by the timeless power of the rocks and water. It was both meditative and enchanting…and it produced my favourite sketch of the trip. Thanks again!


    • Christine, it’s great to hear from you, and also wonderful to hear that this was meaningful to you too. If I had to choose a favourite from your sketches, I would have a hard time because you produced so many beauties, but glad you have one you like best. Sometimes the ones we cherish most are the ones that bring back special memories, I think. This one certainly does that for me, and I have been wanting to write about the experience for many weeks. Glad I found the time today to share it.


  3. parikhitdutta says:

    Sometimes silence hides the tumultuous of all thoughts within its bosom.


  4. Alison says:

    So cool! Love the sketch. And your writing!


  5. Judy Sopher says:

    Fascinating. You write as well as you paint. Your descriptions help me travel vicariously. Gollum-Ha! Thanks for the lovely painting and sharing this with us–and me, a non-traveler.


  6. Monique says:

    Loved this and the must have been wonderful.Otherwordly.I love that place.


  7. Jeff Gold says:

    Shari, Thank you for this “reflective” (in more ways than one) post. It brings me back, again, to that marvelous week we all shared. The dark mystery of the source is beautifully captured in your drawing. I regret that I was not one of the participants in that sketching event but, as I recall, it was late in the long hot day and I just didn’t have the energy to do another drawing. It’s great to be brought back to that time and place. Thank you.


    • HI Jeff. It was late and it had been a long, hot day. At least you got up there another evening to see what it was like, and even though you didn’t make it to that event, we had many other great moments. The cloister, the market scene, the lavender… All unique and unforgettable experiences for me as well. I couldn’t have imagined how special a week it would turn out to be.


  8. slowlane says:

    Your paintings, as always, are beautiful. That is a fascinating description. Thank you for sharing it.
    I’m glad for the sketchers who had a great experience in Porto. Sadly, some of us who are Patreons learned that it was a painful experience for two prominent participants. It is hard to understand why representatives of the Urban Sketchers organization have not engaged in dialogue to move toward some type of reconciliation over two differing sides of a story, allowing one to dominate, the other to be rejected.


    • Hi.

      Thanks so much for writing. The Porto experience was amazing and I was thrilled to see how many people were able to follow the action through the regular Urban Sketchers channels like Facebook and Instagram, as well as by reading the posts by the three correspondents who drew and wrote throughout the event.

      Unfortunately, I don’t think my blog is a good forum for a discussion of any personal events that have nothing to do with my work. I have the utmost respect for the Urban Sketchers board and symposium team, and hope that they have dealt with any painful experiences for participants in a timely and fair manner. That has always been my experience in the past.



  9. joantav says:

    Sometimes we do find a place that is magical. Glad you did!


  10. Mira says:

    Hi Shari, you’ve captured the atmosphere perfectly, both in words and your painting! There was certainly a whiff of otherworldliness emanating from the emerald green depths of the Source of the Sorgue……and I’ll always remember that evening sketching and painting with you, it was very special. I think it was my best effort at your workshop!! Thank you for the inspiration and encouragement !


    • Mira, thank you for sharing the experience wth me. I think it was special for all of us and I’m so glad we made the walk up there despite our fatigue from the day. Hope all is well with you.


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