A student friend of mine gave me a small marvel of a book: walking tours of the French Impressionist artists' studios, homes and the sites they painted. While evidence of these artists is vivid on museum walls, it is easily missed on the streets of the city if you don't know where to look. So today, book in hand, I set out to find these places.
I focused on the Right Bank and the environs of the Gare Saint Lazare, site of the famous Monet train station paintings. He was intrigued by the raw power of the engines and the effects of sunlight on the smoke and steam. Monet was granted special permission to paint in the train station. Renoir recalled that his friend Monet had put on his best clothes and presented himself to the station director as the famous artist Claude Monet! The falsely impressed official had the trains stopped and the engines filled with coal to accommodate the painter. Monet set up his easel right beside the tracks and began to paint. He painted twelve pictures over the next few months. I saw this one yesterday at the Marmottan. The station looks very different today with networks of electrical cables.
I walked west to find the residence of Gustave Caillebotte, who painted those wonderful rainy street scenes nearby on the Rue de St Petersbourg. Caillebotte was born into a wealthy family. Here is the familly mansion where he lived at 77, rue de Miromesnil, corner of the rue de Lisbonne.
A few blocks northeast was the residence of Monet as a young man, at 26 rue d'Edimbourg.
Claude Monet's first studio was located about a 20 minute walk away to the east at 17, rue de Moncey. Later he moved his studio several blocks to the north at 20, rue Vintimille. Both pictured here:
Nearby, at 39 rue de Saint Petersbourg, I found the final residence of Edouard Manet.
It was quite an adventure, tracking down these unmarked and forgotten landmarks. I paused in front of each of these buildings, envisioning what it must have been like over 100 years ago when these young artists, so excited by their work, walked in and out of their doors, up and down these pavements. All around me mothers with strollers, old men walking their dogs, teens smoking and hanging out, young girls in tall boots rushed by, oblivious to the history that happened on these streets. It started here, it happened here, not in the halls of the museums!
I continued my journey up through the hilly Montmartre District, home to the grape-stomping monks of the 1200's as well as the Parisian liberals of the 1800's and Modernist painters of the 1900's who enjoyed cheap rent, untaxed booze and cabaret nightlife. Some of the highlights from this 2-hour walk were seeing Picasso's first studio, a humble looking building, where modern art was born:
Renoir's home is located in this district, but after trying to find it for 45 minutes, I gave up. I did find the residence where Van Gogh lived with his brother for two years from 1886 - 1889 at 54 rue Lepic. He lived on the very top floor, overlooking the city.
The Moulin Rouge is nearby, as is Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's house (which I couldn't find).
At the top of the Butte Montmartre was the center of bohemian Montmartre, the Place de Tertre, a square lined with cafes and loaded with as many tourists now as artists, who make a living sketching portraits and selling their paintings. The nearby view of the city is tremendous.
As I descended the hill, I looked back to see the Sacre-Coeur (Sacred Heart) Basilica, which took 44 years to build, from 1875 - 1919.
One of the sites in the Montmartre District I regret I didn't see was the Au Lapin Agile Cabaret, the village's hot spot where Picasso and other artists and writers gathered. Having seen Steve Martin's Picasso at the Lapin Agile, a play about a fictional meeting between Picasso and Albert Einstein, I was disappointed not to have see the actual cabaret. Other than that, I came back to my apartment satiated and exhausted!