Monday, October 15, 2012
Those Crazy Bohemians! (Why Montmartre?)
What made the artists of Paris leave the city and move to Montmartre in the nineteenth century? The first answer is the most common reason that artists are always on the move.
Napoleon III wanted Paris "beautified" and so he gave most of the prime land in the city to wealthy friends. It was their responsibility to develop it. Develop it they did, and rents soared. The original inhabitants had no choice but to leave.
Montmartre was officially made part of Paris in the 1850's but the city did not develop it, and the village considered itself very much separate. It was free of Paris taxes and had a nunnery that made cheap red wine. Those alone were good reasons to move to Montmartre. Add the facts that Montmartre sat at the top of a hill that overlooked the whole city of Paris, and there was an abundance of light (hard to find in the city) and you had the perfect location for painters to gather.
Johan Jongkind and Camille Pisarro were some of the first artists to inhabit the area in the mid-nineteenth century. It was not until toward the end of that century and the beginning of the twentieth that artists really began to flock there.
Vincent van Gogh, Pierre Brissaud, Alfred Jarry, Gen Paul, Jacques Villon, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Henri Matisse, André Derain, Suzanne Valadon, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Maurice Utrillo, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Théophile Steinlen, and African-American expatriates such as Langston Hughes worked in this village and found artistic inspiration there.
Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, and other artists living in poverty worked in a commune, a building called Le Bateau-Lavoir, during the years 1904–1909. Composer Satie (who was a pianist at Le Chat Noir), also lived in the area.
The last of the bohemian Montmartre artists was Gen Paul. He was born in Montmartre and a friend of Utrillo. Paul's calligraphic expressionist lithographs, sometimes memorializing picturesque Montmartre itself, owe a debt to Raoul Dufy.
In fact, many of these artists painted scenes of the village. More and more artists flocked to the area in order to draw inspiration from each other. It must have been quite a scene, and one that I would have loved being part of.
Stay tuned for more information about the bohemian artists of Montmartre and Impressionism.