1675586401 In the footsteps of its artists through the never ending Montparnasse

In the footsteps of its artists through the never-ending Montparnasse

The chronicles of the Montparnasse district of Paris say that it was the Spanish artists who, along with the Latin Americans, discovered the many hours of sunshine that the Terrasse de La Rotonde, the bistro run by Victor Libion ​​​​, at the beginning of the 20th century became a whole battalion of destitute artists, poets and writers for hours without consuming more than a café crème. He never scolded them for hungrily pecking at the pieces of bread from the bread bins. There they alternated between Pablo Picasso, the sculptor Pablo Gargallo and the painter María Blanchard. It was not uncommon for the painter Diego Rivera to be found, who only occasionally shared a table with his wife, the Russian painter Angelina Beloff. It was more difficult to find the more reserved Juan Gris, who maintained his studio on Paris’ right bank, in Montmartre, in the distant and mythical Bateau-Lavoir. Along with Gino Severini, Moïse Kisling and Jacques Lipchitz and so on, they formed a colony of emigrants who would shape one of the most revolutionary and golden periods in art history, forging the first wave of the artistic avant-garde.

La Rotonde is still standing and although its clientele and prices are no longer what they once were, the setting allows the visitor to escape the present and look back. Go around the intersection between Boulevard Raspail and Boulevard Montparnasse and, as Woody Allen suggested in Midnight in Paris (2011), fantasize about visiting establishments, corners and buildings, behind whose windows not only the frontiers of art but also of Society were expanded habits were changed. In this rich social exchange that prevailed in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, artists found in it a laboratory of ideas willing to be themselves in all facets of life. They lived as they created and created as they lived.

More information

Back then, anyone who wanted to spread a rumor or brag about a love change only had to go to the Le Dôme Café. By the 1920s, his legend had crossed the Atlantic, and as soon as Americans set foot in the French capital, they dreamed of being part of his entertaining clientele. A few minutes’ walk away is La Coupole, which has retained its characteristic Art Deco style. Le Select opened in 1925 and was open all night. However, its owners have never been very interested in the artistic life of the neighborhood and consequently – and although it was one of the favorite haunts of Fiesta author Ernest Hemingway – it never reached the intellectual aura of La Closerie des Lilas, where they held weekly gatherings around the poet Paul Fort. This was the first café to bring an artistic reputation to the neighborhood. This was aided by its proximity to the late Bal Bullier on the Avenue de l’Observatoire, where fancy dress balls were regularly organized to raise money for artists.

Interior of the famous 'Brasserie' La Coupole in 'Art Deco' style in Paris.Interior of the famous “Brasserie” La Coupole in “Art Deco” style in Paris.Hemis / Alamy

A plate of pasta in exchange for drawings


The best travel recommendations, delivered to your inbox every week


Rue Campagne Première is one of the most emblematic streets of Montparnasse. At number 9 was Chez Rosalie, where the owner supplied pasta to her best customer, Modigliani, who often paid with his drawings. In disbelief, she brought the works into the back room, where, according to legend, they were eaten by rats. Very close by, at number 17, the photographer Eugène Atget unveiled the images of a Paris on the brink of disappearance under the radical urban renewal of the Haussmann plan and several portals below, in the impressive building at 31 bis, rediscovered together with Man Ray Lee Miller, then his assistant and lover, developed the photographic process called solarization, which elevates his experimental photography to the category of art. On the same sidewalk, Japanese painter Fujita had his studio, and Hotel Istria remains open in the building next door, where a plaque commemorates Picabia, Duchamp, Kisling, and composer Erik Satie among its patrons. “What shines never fades,” wrote the surrealist poet Louis Aragon to his wife Elsa Triolet from one of his rooms. Rainer Maria Rilke, Tristan Tzara, Vladimir Mayakovski and the luckiest of the neighborhood, the model and singer who also wanted to be a painter, Kiki de Montparnasse, a symbol of that time, stayed in his rooms. At the end of the 1950s, the painter Yves Klein established his residence on the mythical street, a few meters from Michel Poiccard, the character created by Jean-Luc Godard and played by Jean-Paul Belmondo in At the End of the Flight fell to his death, Icon of the cinematic modernity.

Model and artist Alice Pin, better known as Model and artist Alice Pin, better known as “Kiki de Montparnasse”, in a photograph taken at the Café du Dôme in Paris in 1929. ullstein picture / Getty Images

Almost opposite the headquarters of the Cartier Foundation, at 242 Boulevard Raspail, is the Cité Nicolas Poussin, where Picasso had his studio in 1912. His paper collé technique matured there until he moved to rue Victor Schoelcher 5bis two years later. In this study he became the envy of his colleagues in the neighborhood: it was the only one with a bathtub. The elegant building has survived and its large windows overlook Montparnasse Cemetery (where Charles Baudelaire, Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Man Ray, Samuel Beckett and Susan Sontag rest, among others). “An odd option for someone notoriously superstitious,” said John Richardson, the painter’s biographer from Malaga. Only after the death of the artist’s second partner and muse, Eva Gouel, in 1915 did the views begin to change the painter’s mood. He lived there, however, until 1918, when he moved to the more bourgeois and refined environs of Rue La Boétie, across the Seine, to settle with his first wife, the Russian dancer Olga Khokhlova.

Replica of the studio of Italian sculptor Alberto Giacometti at the Giacometti Institute in the French capital. Replica of the studio of Italian sculptor Alberto Giacometti at the Giacometti Institute in the French capital. Sabine Glaubitz (Picture Alliance / Getty Images)

At 5 rue Victor Schoelcher, the headquarters of the Giacometti Institute are currently located. There, the Swiss sculptor’s studio has been rebuilt and exhibitions and other temporary activities are organized, for which you can book in advance. Not far away, at 46 Rue Hippolyte Maindron, was the famous artist’s actual studio.

The urban regeneration of Montparnasse-Maine carried out in the 1970s, culminating in the Montparnasse Tower, housed many artists’ studios. Where the controversial skyscraper stands, the second tallest in the city at 60 stories, was the studio of Blanchard, Rivera and also Mondrian. At 21 avenue du Maine, however, remains what is now Villa Vassilieff, one of the few remaining artists’ towns, little changed, in the neighborhood where Blanchard also lived. In the quiet alley was the canteen of the Russian painter Marie Vassilieff, who is said to have counted Trotsky among her lovers. During the First World War, many artists came to eat there, and since there was no curfew, it filled up every night.

On the way to the Luxembourg Gardens and already in the VI. District, on this itinerary of artistic skies, one should not miss a stop at 100 bis rue d’Assas, where the Russian sculptor Ossip Zadkine once had his studio. Converted into the Zadkine Museum, it now displays his works along with those of his wife, Valentine Prax. The small garden retains all its charm, populated by sculptures where the hawthorns, hydrangeas and cyclamens that the artist loved so much have been replanted.

Zadkine Museum at 100 bis rue d'Assas in Paris, where the Russian sculptor Ossip Zadkine once had his studio.Zadkine Museum at 100 bis rue d’Assas in Paris, where the Russian sculptor Ossip Zadkine once had his studio.Hemis / Alamy

Adjacent to the gardens and about twenty minutes walk you will reach the banks of the Seine. There’s the luxurious Lapérouse restaurant, where one of the biggest splits in the Cubist group took place after Mexican Diego Rivera wanted to hit critic Pierre Reverdy. A good place to end the conjecture or confirm what poet John Ashbery said and writer Enrique Vila-Matas affirmed: “After living in Paris, one cannot live anywhere, including Paris.”

Subscribe to the El Viajero newsletter here and find inspiration for your next trips on our Facebook accounts. Twitter and Instagram.