Art in Paris is booming! Simply stroll along the banks of the Seine to see local artists at work. Paris is home to several top museums like the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay. Or you can go shopping in of the many art galleries at the Quartier Latin. A favourite with artists is the lovely suburb Montmartre, a place that has been inspiring artists for centuries. The area’s breath-taking views, uphill cobbled streets and colourful houses will make you feel like you’ve stepped into a painting. With a 10 year waitlist for an easel spot, the famous Place du Tertre, just minutes from the Basilica of Sacré Coeur, is a much sought after location for artists.
Paris has attracted artists for centuries. They include some of the most famous such as Renoir, Degas and van Gogh. In what way did Paris inspire them and how are they connected to some of today’s most popular sights?
The Moulin de la Galette, Montmartre
A pretty little windmill on top of Montmartre’s hill was once an outdoor dance area offering views all over Paris. This windmill (now a restaurant) was right at the centre of all the fun, buzz and cabaret of the 19th century. It was the place to be. No wonder it was an inspiration for many artists that were captured by its charm. One of them was the great Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Born in 1841, Renoir moved to Paris at the young age of four. Between 1875 and 1877 he lived in rue Cortot, near the old windmill, and it was here that he painted one of his most famous works, the ‘Bal du Moulin de la Galette’.
Renoir definitely created one of the most famous Moulin de la Galette inspired paintings. However he wasn’t the only artist who was inspired by this now touristy landmark.
Vincent van Gogh
Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh was also captivated by it. He and his brother Theo lived near the windmill from 1886 to 1888. Van Gogh lived in Paris for several periods of his life. His Montmartre series includes several works involving the Moulin de la Galette. In contrast to Renoir’s work, Van Gogh’s paintings focus on the scenery of the area from a greater distance.
The Moulin de la Galette wasn’t the only place for music and dance that inspired artists, so did the Opéra Garnier. Designed by architect Charles Garnier, the Opéra opened its doors in 1875. The French painter Paul Baudry was responsible for one of the Opéra Garnier’s most beautiful parts.
Born in the South of France, Baudry moved to Paris at the age of 16 where he enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1845. Five years later he won the Prix de Rome. This prestigious contest wasn’t easy to win. Artists like Ravel, Manet and Degas were unsuccessful at this point. For three centuries the contest, founded by King Louis XIV in 1666, rewarded winners with a scholarship to the Academie de France. During the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte moved the Academie to Rome in order to preserve it.
Baudry’s talent can be seen in his portraits and in his mural decorations. One of his most famous works can be seen in the Opéra Garnier. The absolutely magnificent Grand Foyer shows his incredible gift and always impresses visitors. Seven years into the construction of the Opéra, Baudry also painted the portrait of the architect, Charles Garnier. This painting can now be seen in the Musée d’Orsay. The Parisian museums house some of the most stunning Paris inspired works. The Musée d’Orsay is located in a former train station and houses a collection that includes paintings and sculptures from artists such as Monet, Renoir and Degas. All key figures in the impressionist movement, transforming art in France.
Despite being one of the organisers of the first impressionism exhibition, Edgar Degas called himself a realist first, then an impressionist. Being intrigued with the human figure his works often show the body in unusual positions. His huge passion for ballet and music made Degas a frequent visitor to the Opéra. For several decades the Opéra and in particular the world of ballet, were his source of inspiration, which led to an incredible 1500 works just on this subject alone.
Former tour guide, Natascha Gordeau has a passion for travel, photography and story-telling. From her home in the Netherlands, she loves to visit France where her ancestors are from. Find out more at Tash Travel Pics on Twitter: @N_Gordeau
Read more about the history of artists in Montmartre