On a recent trip to Paris, we rediscovered Montmartre, which I hadn’t visited for many years, and we were also lucky enough to stumble upon an exhibition called ‘Picasso in Montmartre. The Comic Book “Pablo” by Julie Birmant and Clément Oubrerie’, which is on at the Musée de Montmartre until the end of August. Shown mainly as cartoon boards, the exhibition is spread right throughout the museum and interspersed with the permanent works on show. By the use of cartoon drawings, the stories depict not only Picasso and Fernando Olivier, with whom he was having a relationship at this time, but also other famous artists living and working in Montmartre in the early 1900s.
The museum itself is charming, and very much has the feel of wandering through someone’s home and seeing an eclectic collection of various works of art and memorabilia . The paintings, photographs, posters, models, shadow paintings and manuscripts depict the fascinating history of Montmartre and, among the works are Steinlen’s ‘Le Cabaret du Chat Noir’, Toulouse-Lautrec’s ‘Bruant au Mirliton’ and ‘Le Moulin Rouge’, Maurice Utrillo’s ‘La Place Pigalle’ and Suzanne Valadon’s ‘L’Autoportrait’. There are also silhouettes from the Shadow Theatre, a scale model of the village of Montmartre, and an entire room featuring French Cancan including a video showing excerpts from Jean Renoir’s famous film.
The museum is surrounded by three gardens dedicated to Auguste Renoir, where he painted such masterpieces as ‘La Balançoire’ and ‘Torse, Effet de Soleil’. There are views over the Clos Montmartre vineyard, the only vineyard in Paris still producing wine, which has existed since the Middle Ages. A woodland area was gated off while we were there, with a sign saying ‘Cats only allowed’ – we did see a black cat in the garden, with more than a passing resemblance to Steinlen’s Le Chat Noir! Moreover, he is called Salis after Rudolphe Salis, the eccentric creator and host of the original cabaret, Le Chat Noir in 1881, at 84, boulevard de Rochechouart, just below Montmartre.
Don’t leave the area without visiting the famous Bateau Lavoir, close by at 13 Place Emile-Goudeau, which housed Picasso’s studio, as well as being a meeting place for other artists and writers, including Matisse, Braque, Derain, Dufy, Modigliani, Utrillo and Gertrude Stein. Biographies of these artists will undoubtedly reveal stories of the bohemian lifestyle at Bateau Lavoir, including an occasion when Amedeo Modigliani destroyed a number of his friends’ paintings while in an alcoholic rage! While living here, Picasso painted one of his most famous works, ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’.
The Musée de Montmartre is located at 8-14 rue Cortot in the 18th arr., and is housed in two buildings, the Hotel Demarne and the Maison du Bel Air. The Hotel Demarne is currently being renovated, and will be open to the public in October 2014. The exhibition “The Spirit of Montmartre and the Modern Art (1875 – 1910)” will inaugurate the new space. Suzanne Valadon’s studio, where she lived with her son, Maurice Utrillo, and her partner André Utter, is also being restored and will open in October this year.