In the footsteps of the impressionists: Safran sites dotted along the Seine
In the 19th century, the Seine inspired many painters, in particular during the latter half of the century, at a time when the banks of the river were in transition between nature and increasing industrialization. Today, these spaces have often been transformed into urban centers or industrial zones: Safran has several sites along this “Path of the Impressionists”. Shall we take a virtual stroll?
The artistic movement known as impressionism can be traced to the 1872 painting by Claude Monet, Impression, soleil levant (“Impression, sunrise”) de Claude Monet. A view of the old port of Le Havre, this painting was displayed in 1874 at the first exhibition by the Société anonyme des artistes peintres, sculpteurs et graveurs, in Paris. Art critic Louis Leroy made fun of the painting’s title, calling his article, “The Exhibition of the Impressionists”. But the reaction was quite the opposite of what he expected, and “impressionists” would become the accepted term for this new artistic movement.
This revolutionary movement can therefore trace its roots to the port city of Le Havre, also the home of Safran Nacelles’ main plant. With more than 1,600 employees, this plant includes design offices, and handles the production of thrust reversers for the engine nacelles used on such prestigious airplanes as the Falcon 5X, Airbus A320neo and A380, and the Comac C919. The Le Havre plant also manufactures nozzles for the Airbus A380 and A330neo, and the Boeing 777X.
Often considered the “capital” of Impressionism, the village of Giverny is where Claude Monet’s house can be found. The surrounding landscapes feature extensively in his paintings, including Vernon, the town that is home to the headquarters of Safran’s electric satellite propulsion programs. In fact, between 1883 and 1894, Claude Monet produced many paintings representing the collegiate church in Vernon. Today, the town has a museum dedicated to Impressionism, but also two Safran sites!
Indeed, Safran Aircraft Engines’ electrical propulsion (also called plasma) plant is located in Vernon: this is where the Group develops, produces and tests plasma propulsion systems for satellites. The Vernon site includes a 200m2 clean room, a support workshop, non-destructive testing facilities, stores and test cells. These propulsion systems equip the following thrusters among others: the PPS®5000 and the PPS®1350. The PPS®5000 will power the “all-electric” platforms used on the satellites of Thales Alenia Space France and Airbus Defense & Space. The Group is a pioneer in electric propulsion, a technology that reduces costs as well as the environmental impact of launching. Vernon is also the location of an ArianeGroup site (a 50/50 joint venture between Safran and Airbus) which is devoted to manufacturing the European launcher Ariane.
The town of Argenteuil and its Seine riverfront, located just a few kilometers from Paris, have also inspired many painters of the Impressionist movement. Alfred Sisley, Edouard Manet, Gustave Caillebotte and Claude Monet all made several stays here and immersed themselves in these landscapes. Claude Monet, for example, lived there for several years between 1871 and 1877, and was visited by many of his Impressionist friends. He painted some of his most famous paintings in this spot (“Poppy Field” – 1873, “The Argenteuil Bridge” – 1874).
This was also where Alfred Sisley painted “The Seine at Argenteuil”, a depiction of fishermen on the river, in 1872. In 1875, Edouard Manet created his famous painting “Argenteuil” here, a scene depicting a boater in the company of a young woman, with the village of Argenteuil in the background. Lastly, this was the setting in which Gustave Caillebotte found inspiration for his “Anchored Boat on the Seine at Argenteuil” in 1888.
While these different canvases project a rural image of Argenteuil, which was still just a small market town recently connected to Paris by the train, they also reveal the first stages of its industrialization, as well as the activity and the work generated by the presence of the river... Indeed, the advent of the railway marked the beginning of a process of intense industrial development. Today, Argenteuil is a city of more than 100,000 inhabitants and is home to several Safran sites along with other plants.
For example, Safran Electrical & Power has a team seconded to Argenteuil on a manufacturing site for Dassault’s Rafale: this 40-person team works on installing electrical system on the Rafale’s fuselage and on fitting the structural parts on the jet fighter’s upper fuselage. Argenteuil is also the headquarters of Safran Martin Baker France, a 50/50 joint venture between Safran and Martin-Baker. For nearly 60 years, Safran Martin Baker has been designing, producing and marketing ejection seats for French-designed fighter aircraft. Built with unique know-how and technology, these ejection seats have already saved more than 700 lives.
The link between Safran and Gennevilliers is a long-standing one, dating back to the time of Louis Seguin and Gustave Caillebotte. Indeed, upon the death of the latter, Louis Seguin acquired the site that was previously operated by Caillebotte as a shipbuilding yard, as well as his house, located in Petit-Gennevilliers. In 1895, Louis Seguin decided to establish an engine manufacturing workshop on the site. This is how Petit-Gennevilliers, a rural neighborhood that was a favorite boating spot for Parisians up to the end of the 19th century, became one of the largest industrial areas in northern Paris.
Gennevilliers is therefore a very important city in the history of Safran. Even today, it hosts a major site for the Group’s aerospace propulsion business: nearly 1,500 people are employed at the plant. In total, the Safran Aircraft Engines site in Gennevilliers covers 15 hectares and incorporates forging, foundry and machining activities.
Gennevilliers was also a prime location for the Impressionists, all of whom did several paintings there – even some of their masterpieces. This was where Edouard Manet painted his famous “Luncheon on the Grass” in 1863, a canvas that inspired Claude Monet’s Impressionist version in 1865. As for Gustave Caillebotte, he found inspiration for many of his works in the surrounding landscapes (“The Plain of Gennevilliers”, 1888), but especially in the garden of his home in Petit-Gennevilliers. Caillebotte’s garden, transformed with great care into a haven of peace by the horticulture enthusiast, notably inspired his canvas “Roses in the Garden at Petit Gennevilliers” (1886).
A strong footprint nationally
Continuing downstream as far as Le Havre further Safran sites along with landscapes that inspired the painters of the Impressionist movement can be found. Indeed, Safran has an extensive presence in France, where it has more than 36,500 employees in sites dotted across all regions.