19th century Paris witnessed, in its studios and neighbourhoods, the birth of many art movements. In the middle of the century many changes appeared; such as industrialisation, capitalism, and the great Haussmannian works that transformed the Parisian landscape.
Impressionists appeared at that time and have shown in their paintings this new and modern face of Paris. Added to it, scientific progress allowed the invention of the paint tube, which brought painters out of their studios. They began to paint scenes of Parisian avenues, cafés and open-air dance halls. What is particularly interesting with Impressionism is that we still have the chance today to see many places depicted by the generation of our great-grandparents, and compare what is left and what remains.
An amusing exercise for nature lovers is to discover the spots featured in the paintings of the city parks. You can start with Vincent Van Gogh’s Lane at the Jardin du Luxembourg painted in 1886, and one of Claude Monet’s paintings from Tuileries garden and Parc Monceau (1876). A little harder to find is Alfred Sisley’s viewpoint in Seine river at Bougival – painted in 1876. The most passionate can follow the footsteps of Monet on both banks of the Seine river, where he staged simple daily scenes. Explore the Parisian suburbs with ordinary people – On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt (1868), or La Grenouillère, a swimming spot with a boat rental and a café, also painted by his impressionist friend Auguste Renoir in 1869.
The train stations – symbols of modern times – were also painted. Saint-Lazare station by Monet (1877), showing the arrival of the train from Normandy, was also painted by Camille Pissaro, but from the outside. The Bridge of Europe near by Saint-Lazare was Gustave Caillebotte subject in 1876. Montparnasse station was painted by Giorgio de Chirico showing the origonal aspect of it. Although the techniques have changed, and almost every detail of the scenes belong to the past, there is an obvious familiarity in these places that runs through the ages, and the growing importance the stations did not cease in importance even today.
On the Right Bank, there are also places that are worth seeing such as; Montorgueil street painted by Monet during the celebration day at the end of 1878 World Fair. The impressionistic technique depicting the abundance of French flags and the crowd gives an impression of intense animation. Today Montorgueil street is also a very lively street that both Parisian visitors and dwellers appreciate for its food market, gourmet shops and small restaurants.
Definitely a paradise for nostalgia, you can find in Montmartre places depicted in paintings such as the restaurant in the well-known painting The ball at the Moulin de la Galette by Auguste Renoir (1876). It is the only windmill on Montmartre hill that still works. You can find it on Lepic Street and enjoy a meal for 19€ every day, except Sunday and holidays. The mill was also painted by Vincent Van Gogh in 1886, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in 1889 and Picasso in 1900 – his first Parisian painting!
The late 1880’s was a period of freedom from care and joy of living. Cabarets were flourishing, first among them the famous Moulin-Rouge. As soon as it was created in 1889, Toulouse-Lautrec began to paint the cabaret. He made many pictures during the concert-balls that were given every day at 10 pm. He painted a lot of portraits of the Moulin-Rouge dancers and lithographs for the cabaret’s posters. He illustrated the French Cancan contributing to its celebrity, and if you spend some time at the Moulin-Rouge nowadays, you can find a dish named after him.
The Parisian artistic excitement is still alive today and it is easy to encounter painters throughout the city. I met a Parisian artist who came to live in Paris twenty years ago from Baltimore, United States. Judith L. paints concerts in Parisian halls, especially the musicians. She lives in a housing estate in Montmartre. Ordener street, numbers 187 to 189, is a special place where all kinds of artists live. It is one of the several artist housing estates of Paris that was built in the 1920’s called Montmartre-aux-Artistes.
Originally built to house artists’ studios, Montmartre-aux-Artistes became the largest housing estate in Europe that gathers painters, photographs, movie makers, musicians, writers and others. Each year, these artists organise Open Days. It is the occasion for many Parisians to go and meet the artists, and a way for the artists to be known. Paris is a city that cares for its artists. Rents in artists housing estates are about 50% cheaper than in the rest of the city. A great opportunity for the various artists. The provision of public housing exclusively reserved for artists by the city is undoubtedly one of the greatideas that contribute to the tremendous artistic creation in Paris.
Continuing walking through Montmartre, you will find a street called Rue des Moulins, at number 6, there was the most luxurious brothel in Paris. Toulouse-Lautrec worked and sometimes lived there for a few days in order to paint and depict the intimate life of the prostitutes. Farther along you will arrive at Place Clichy, a place that was already crowded in 1880 when Renoir painted his similarly named artwork. This was also a place that Pablo Picasso painted. in the beginning of the 1900’s, he came from Spain to live in Paris and took a studio at 130 Boulevard Clichy.
Indeed, Paris was the headland of painting from the 1900’s to the 1940’s. The light of the capital particularly allured many painters from the whole world. It was the quarter’s golden age: the time of the Bateau-Lavoir, a squalid block of buildings in Montmartre situated at 13 Ravignan street, where numerous outstanding artists and also intellectuals met and lived. Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Modigliani, Brancusi, Appolinaire, Maurice Utrillo, and Jean Cocteau were among them. Picasso invented cubism while he was living there. Bateau-Lavoir, means the laundry-boat because it looked like boats of laundry women. The building entered the historical monuments list in 1965, but it completely burned in an accidental fire in 1970. A new building was set up in 1978 with the original facade which was saved. It now accommodates 25 artist studios.
After World War I, the Bateau-Lavoir lost its popularity to the Montparnasse quarter, and the Ruche, its equivalent on the Left Bank until World War II. The Ruche saw surrealist artists such as Chagall, who painted the Paris Opera ceiling in 1964, and Soutine. The Ruche is now closed to the general public but the exterior is worth a visit.
Also on the Left Bank of the Seine river, Notre-Dame cathedral was painted by the famous Honoré Daumier, and the Eiffel Tower painted by Georges Seurat in 1889. Following the Seine, you will discover a multitude of bridges. In the Monnaie quarter, a very well-known example is the pedestrian Bridge of the Arts. Sometimes used as a place for exhibitions, the bridge remains an extraordinary viewpoint for painters, illustrators and photographs, but as well for amateurs. Built in 1802, the Bridge of the Arts is as was every other at that time a toll bridge. Of course, if you decide to pass along it today you will not have to pay.
Linking the Louvre’s Cour Carré and the Institute of France, the bridge displays one of the most wonderful panoramas of the city. You can see the Pont Neuf (the new bridge), which is the oldest standing bridge in Paris, but is thus named because it was Paris first stone bridge. Auguste Renoir immortalized the Pont Neuf in 1872, showing us the affluence of people on the bridge as well as the changing flavour of the time, with carts, horses, and cars passing by. One can easily recognize the bridge with the great buildings of the background.
Also visible from the Bridge of the Arts are the; Palais de Justice which is built on the former royal palace of Saint Louis -King of France, the Sainte-Chapelle, and the towers of Notre Dame de Paris. You may encounter a Parisian artist on this bridge. In the Louvre museum many patient painters enjoy imitating the great Masters and at the top of Montmartre hill illustrators offer to sketch your portrait for a few euros. And if you wish to buy a painting of Paris to keep on enjoying the sightseeing, you can go to the galleries of the Place of the Tertre…