Art Students and Collectors in Paris


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Art Students in Paris During the Golden Age

During the later decades of the 19th century and into the 20th century, Americans made up the largest group of foreigners studying art in Paris.  They worked with the academic painters and sculptors, learning classical style.  Generally, they did not study with the Impressionists.  During the 1890s, hundreds of Americans exhibited in the annual Salons where they competed favorably gaining medals and sales.Woman's Art Journal cover image

The American Art Association or Club provided lodgings for visiting artists in an old school building at 131 Blvd. du Montparnasse with a garden that was also used for stables. Over the decades, the Art Association bounced around Montparnasse to various locations. The next was 82 rue Notre Dame des Champs. In 1897 it relocated to Number 2 Impasse Conti.  By 1906 the association moved to 74 rue Notre Dame des Champs and in 1909 to the rue Jaseph Bara.  It closed in the early 1930s.  There were other facilities that specialized in housing visiting American art students near the various art academies.

Unclothed woman posing for art class.

Women’s art class with female model. École des Arts Décoratifs, Paris.

The American’s Girls’ Club at 4 rue de Chevreuse in the 6th Arr. opened in 1893. The boarding house provided meals, French lessons and social activities for young American women in Paris to study art.  Académie Vitti, 49 Blvd. du Montparnasse,  admitted women and included naked male models in life studies classes, unusual at the time.  F. W. MacMonnies, Whistler’s earlier studio partner, taught at Académie Vitti.

John Singer Sargent‘s studio was decorated to replicate a grand salon with hardwood floors, elaborate fireplace mantels and masses of expensive textiles.  But it was a rented property at 41 Blvd. Berthier, not his own asset.  The scandal attached to his portrait of the grand lady in black with all the skin exposed discouraged conservative patrons.  Sargent moved to England and continued his career as a society portrait painter.

Gertrude Stein in Paris

The Stein siblings — Gertrude and Leo — were living in the house-studio at 27 rue de Fleurus. Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude’s partner, moved in at a later date. Their open house parties attracted artists, writers, patrons and characters, especially Americans. Michael Stein and his wife Sarah Stein lived at 58 rue Madame where their Saturday night gatherings cultivated a salon scene.  All the Steins bought up paintings by Paul Cèzanne, Renoir, Gauguin.  Michael and Sarah were soon onto Matisse, who was supported by them and persuaded by Sarah Stein to open an art school.  Leo was more conservative in building his art collection.  Gertrude Stein focused her collecting efforts on Picasso.

The public garden Square Yves Klein at the southern end of rue Campagne Premiére honors the intense post-WWII modernist who experimented with a particular blue color that bears his name, International Klein Blue.  During the artist’s short, active career, his studio was at 9 rue Campagne Premiére, later becoming number 24.

Yves Klein's hand is International Blue Klein

Yves Klein’s right hand is the color he invented International Blue Klein.

Born in 1928 in Nice, Yves Klein started out in the martial arts, earning the highest honor in judoka and lived in Japan for more than a year. He worked hard and died young of a heart attack on June 6, 1962 aged 34.


Theatre Lucernaire – 53 rue Notre Dame des Champs, 75006 Paris.  Art house theater, cafe and exhibition space.


Mary Cassatt’s Chateau de Beaufresne


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Chateau Beaufresne © L Peat O’Neil




Chateau de Beaufresne

Mary Cassatt lived at Chateau de Beaufresne in the town Le Mesnil-Theribus in the Oise, north east of Paris for the latter part of her life.

She first saw the Chateau in 1891 while the Cassatt family summered at Chateau Bachivillers a few kilometers away.

Cassatt learned that the 17th c. hunting lodge known as Chateau de Beaufresne was for sale and began inquiries.

During the summer of 1892, Mary again rented nearby Chateau Bachivillers while she painted the three enormous panels for the mural “Modern Woman” for the Chicago


Mary Cassatt’s mural for the Chicago World’s Fair, 1893.

World’s Fair which opened May 1, 1893. The mural measured 58 feet by 12 feet and evidently was mishandled and lost after the Exposition closed October 30th.

The timeline for Mary Cassatt’s life at the National Gallery of Art website states she acquired Chateau de Beaufresne in 1894, but another source (McKown, Robin. The World of Mary Cassatt, Thos. Crowell Co. 1972, p. 140.) indicates she was already directing repairs and renovations at the Chateau de Beaufresne during the summer of 1892 while she was renting the nearby Chateau Bachivillers.

FranceSteps_Mlle Lydia Cassatt soeur de la'artiste ou l'Automne. 1880 Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)

Lydia Cassatt, sister of the artist Mary Cassatt.

Many artists and collectors visited Cassatt during the years she lived at her beloved country home. Among them, Mary’s devoted friend, the painter Edgar Degas often visited.

In 2002, I visited the Chateau to follow the footsteps of this beloved American painter.


© L Peat O’Neil, 2002

The modest-sized chateau is set in swathe of lawns and woods with a stream cutting across the lower estate. The building is currently used as an agricultural education center.  When we arrived by car from nearby Gerberoy, students of the eco-institute were slamming a soccer ball around on the back lawn. A few were sitting on upper window sills, a perch with a hawk’s view of arriving visitors.

The rear chateau is open to the sunshine while the front is shadowed by tall trees.   Two towers rise on each side of the chateau’s façade, each topped with a cupola. External modern staircases are affixed to the towers, for exit in case of fire.


Travel Journal page with sketch of Mary Cassatt’s tomb and layout of Chateau de Beaufresne estate. © L. Peat O’Neil, 2002

Mary Cassatt at Ch de Beaufresne, 1925

Mary Cassatt at Chateau Beaufresne, 1925. Image source: American Archives of Art


Mary died June 14, 1926. Her grave is in the village cemetery accessed by a footpath from the Chateau. A small patch of dark evergreen bushes shields the Cassatt family tomb.

Beaufresne_Lane to CassatGrave

Country lane leading from Ch. Beaufresne to the Cassatt Family Tomb in the cemetery of Le Mesnil-Theribus, a village in the Oise district of France.

The grave tablets are plain granite which time has covered with lichen.  On the stones are carved the names Mary, Lydia, Mother, Father, Robert.



Mary Cassatt Website

NYPL program on Cassatt and the 1893 World Exposition in Chicago.

McKown, Robin. The World of Mary Cassatt, Thos. Crowell Co. 1972

American Archives of Art -photo of Mary Cassatt at Chateau Beaufresne

Bibliotheque INHA

Claude Debussy :: Artist of Music


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Archille-Claude Debussy was born August 22, 1862 in Saint-Germain-en-Laye.  Today, the small Debussy museum is established in the house where the composer came into the world.

Claude Debussy, ca. 1908. Photographer Felix Nadar. Photo courtesy Wikicommons.

Claude Debussy, ca. 1908. Photographer Felix Nadar. Photo courtesy Wikicommons.

Debussy’s compositions are known throughout the world.  His art endures as he is one of the most influential composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Along with Maurice Ravel, he was a notable figure in “Impressionist music”, though Debussy did not like the term applied to his own compositions. He was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1903.  Debussy’s  use of non-traditional scales and chromaticism influenced many composers who followed.  Debussy’s music is considered sensual and emotionally evocative. The Symbolist artists and writers inspired Debussy’s musical art and cultural foundation.

Claude Debussy’s father, Manuel-Achille Debussy, sold china and his mother, Victorine Manoury Debussy, was a seamstress. While Paris suffered the assaults of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Debussy’s pregnant mother evacuated to the south, to stay with her husband relatives in Cannes. Debussy began piano lessons there; relatives paid for the lessons.  By 1872, Debussy entered the Paris Conservatoire and progressed rapidly.  His trajectory to fame and recognition ensued.

Debussy’s personal life involved numerous alliances and some scandal.  In 1904 Debussy pursued an idyllic escape with his new lover Emma Bardac, who was married to a banker and the mother of one of his students.  They slipped away to the Isle of Jersey.  First to the town of Pourville near Dieppe, then to Jersey, staying at the Grand Hotel. Debussy’s wife Lilly Texier attempted suicide.  To avoid ensuing troubles while their respective divorces were being completed, Debussy and Bardac returned to Jersey and also stayed in London.

Their daughter was Debussy’s only child.  The family lived near the Bois de Boulogne, now 23 Square Avenue Foch in the 16th arrondissement of Paris.

Debussy died of longstanding cancer during the bombardment of Paris in the final year of World War I on March 25, 1918, just ten days after the Parisian prodigy composer Lili Boulanger,  who in 1913 at age 19 was the first woman to win the Prix de Rome for composition.  She was a student of Gabriel Faure and influenced by Debussy, who had himself won the Prix de Rome in 1884.

Claude Debussy, his wife and daughter are buried in Passy Cemetery near the Trocadero.


In 2012, Smith College Museum of Art in Northampton, Massachusetts offered the exhibition Debussy’s Paris: Art, Music and Sounds of the City. 

Also in 2012, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris produced the exhibition Debussy, Music and the Arts.


Information:  Musée Claude Debussy

The Artful Gardens of Andre LeNotre


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400th anniversary of Andre LeNotre

Tuileries decorative sign – 400th Anniversary of Andre LeNotre’s Birth

The Gardens of Andre Le Notre

Stroll along tree shaded paths, gaze at swans trolling the reflecting pools, watch the fountains play. There might be better ways to spend the day in France, but visiting public gardens is one of the most agreeable. And the elegant decorative creations of master landscape architect Andre Le Notre are the ultimate in classic French gardens. Many of Le Notre’s gardens are close to Paris, accessible by metro or RER. And generally, admission is free.  The 400th Anniversary of Andre LeNotre’s birth was celebrated throughout France in 2013.

Tuileries Gardens

Tuileries Gardens, Paris

The Tuileries Gardens

Anyone whose been to Paris knows the Tuileries gardens bounded by Place Concorde and the Seine and right in front of the Louvre. The pebble paths under the lines of trees, the little green folding chairs, the kids, the dogs, the clusters of pensioners in berets, all define the Tuileries. Visitors today experience a refurbished Tuileries Gardens perhaps closer to the original version designed by Le Notre in 1680.

In 1992, the Tuileries were substantially remodeled. Recreating the botanical intentions of Le Notre was the work of Louis Benech and Pascal Cribier, commissioned by the Ministry of Culture to work with architect I. M. Pei.  Changes wrought by city life have altered Le Notre’s original grand vision anyway. The vanishing point in his elaborately detailed vista of the Tuileries became the Champs Elysees.


The Grand Garden Tradition

Ambling along tree shaded paths, gazing at swans trolling the reflecting pools, watching the fountains play, visitors relax into la bonne vie – the good life.  French national gardens are the ultimate example of exceptionally pleasing environments open to the public.

IMG_7631Le Notre specialized in formal gardens for wealthy chateau owners — dukes, counts and kings, not to mention the mansions and chateaus bestowed on mistresses and paramours of the nobles.

Then, as now, a formal garden expresses grandeur and tames nature in a perhaps misguided and usually futile attempt to demonstrate the power of human will over the natural elements. These 17th century men with money wanted fancy gardens to show off their power. Le Notre obliged them, but he was not a hired hand.  He insisted on following his own vision, incorporating wild spaces into the garden design and creating long vistas. His reliance on lengthened perspective is timeless and especially relevant today with our crowded urban spaces‹h‹ that offer limited viewpoints. Le Notre also figured open areas into his vast panoramas. These days, his graded grass terraces in the parks around Paris are dotted with sunbathers and the open spaces have become sports fields, but the new uses do not diminish Le Notre’s overall vision.
So, take a break from the shopping and sightseeing. Imitate the royalty of times past and stroll through Le Notre’s gardens along paths bordered by yews trimmed into tight inverted cones. Rest for a moment and admire the planted vistas created by Le Notre to draw a visitor’s eyes far into the horizon, the way an artist directs the viewer to a focal point in a painting. Amble in the shade of chestnut trees along the lanes of Versailles, St. Cloud, Seaux, and St. Germaine en Laye. These gardens of Le Notre are near Paris, accessible by Metro or RER, and best of all, admission is free.

Domaine Nationale de Saint Germaine en Laye
The main attraction in the Domaine Nationale de St. Germaine en Laye is the Grande Terrasse, which extends more than 2 kilometers towards Maisons Lafitte, a nearby chateau open to the public. La Terrasse de Le Notre, as it’s also called, is a weekend favorite for Parisians who stroll en famille. Elegant women of a certain age tow their little dogs on leashes. Young couples in the process of discovery hang arms around each other’s necks or share earbuds and digital music.

Solo men lean on the wall and smoke, watching the passing scene. The perambulators at La Terrasse have become more publican since Le Notre created the long walkway for the court of Louis XIV three hundred years ago. Carved out of a forest, the gardens of St. Germaine en Laye feature parterres bordered with beds of shrubs and flowers, circular pools, and broad paths that create diagonal walks from fountain to fountain. The adjacent forest beyond the gates of the formal gardens has extensive paths for aerobic walking.

Overlooking the Seine near the beginning of the Grande Terrasse is the Pavilion Henri IV restaurant. Culinary enthusiasts take note: Sauce Bernaise was created here in 1847 by the chef Collinet in honor of Henri IV who was from the Berne region.
An arch in the wall surrounding the gardens of St. Germaine-en-Laye marks the entrance to the restaurant courtyard. The 3 or 4 course luncheon menu is usually a good value.  Adjacent to the gardens is the Chateau of St. Germaine en Laye, home of the National Museum of Antiquities. King Louis XIV was born in the vast royal palace Chateau Saint-Germain-en-Laye.


St. Germaine en Laye is 19 kms. west of Paris. The easiest way to get there is by RER line A, stop at St. Germaine.


Think of Versailles and scenes of courtiers in the Hall of Mirrors or Marie Antoinette cavorting as a shepherdess come to mind. But Versailles is more than just an awesome palace. For some, the greatest beauty of Versailles is expressed in the gardens of LeNotre.

Le Notre’s immense dramatic experiment in taming nature, pruning and stretching the flora to fit his personal vision was an innovation for garden design. Other landscape designers have contributed to Versailles and fortunately for us, their collective vision was so comprehensive and grand that it discouraged modern tampering and the vistas have remained mostly intact.
If the lines of tourists waiting to tour the Chateau at Versailles are long, and they nearly always are, walk steadily past them, right through the arcade that marks the edge of the gardens. Inside the formal gardens, the flower beds, topiary yews and ankle-high hedges are resemble embroidery on the lawns. Those with more stamina and curiosity should push onward, down into the endless tree-bordered lanes, to the meadows, the canals and quasi-wild patches of woods that compose the grand Parc de Versailles.


Versailles is accessible by train on the RER C line with Paris – Versailles Rive Gauche zones 1-4  ticket.  (T+ ticket is not accepted on this route).

SNCF trains arrive at the Versailles Chantiers station leaving from Paris Montparnasse Station. SNCF trains arrive at Versailles Rive Droite Station leaving from  Paris Saint Lazare Station.


Le Notre’s intimate masterwork, Seaux, is a cathedral of the outdoors. The long nave has its axis at the fountains. The hills stretch out as far as the eye can see because Le Notre’s restructuring of the land creates a foreshortening that fills the visual panorama. The eyes seem to accelerate as they scan the view. The gardens at Seaux are punctuated with tidy reference points — triangular tipped firs, blooming roses at the corners of the paths — that keep the roving eye engaged.
Much of Seaux has been remade; these are not the benches and stairs constructed in the 17th century. And where the high and mighty once amused themselves, couples with frisbees and dogs leap past sunbathers.

In the woods, a man and a woman are practicing martial moves with long poles, flipping the poles behind their heads around to the front and to the ground. Glimpsed through the alleys of trees their shadows play double and suggest Medieval jousters.


Seaux is a station on the southbound RER line. The entrance is about a 10 minute walk from the station. Although Metro tickets are accepted into RER turnstiles, it is imperative that an RER ticket be used. Attempting to exit using a Metro ticket at an RER station invites a substantial fine. Its proximity to Paris makes Seaux a popular weekend destination.

Parc St. Cloud
From the heights of Parc de St. Cloud, one can see the landmarks of the Paris skyline: Sacre Coeur in Montmartre, the Eiffel Tower, Les Invalides, and the new office towers in La Defense. The park is built on a palisade on the banks of the Seine. Famous for Le Notre’s waterworks and cascades, St. Cloud attracts city dwellers in search of respite from summer heat.

Cars are permitted in part of the park which alters the feel of Le Notre’s self-contained garden universe. There are huge distances to traverse in the park, and cars make the outer reaches more accessible but vehicles are intrusive, especially if the radios are blaring. Seek instead the dark woodsy interiors, where one can look across tree lined alleys to open green spaces or stand on the expansive green lawns and look into the forest spaces. There are stands of perfectly aligned trees which create interesting geometric shadows.


To get there, take Bus 72 from the center of Paris and descend after the bridge over the Seine. Or, take the Metro to Porte St. Cloud station and walk across the bridge following signs to the pedestrian crossing to Parc St. Cloud. Opening and closing times vary depending on the month.


The gardens encompass 130 hectares.  Visitors can explore the gardens on their own.  Activities such as horse-drawn carriage rides, jeu de paume (real tennis) games, Segway rides, boating and hot-air balloon trips are offered for a fee.  Those who also want to tour the chateau should plan an all-day visit.  

Of particular interest to followers of Andre LeNotre is the Grand Parterre, the largest formal garden in Europe. Le Nôtre created these gardens between 1660 and 1664 along with Louis Le Vau. It was Louis XIV’s great achievement at Fontainebleau. While some features such as the original box hedge work in the formal garden were lost under Louis XV, the layout of the herb gardens remains.  The water features elaborately complimented with statues are also intact, such as the Bassin des Cascades (17th and 19th centuries).


Vaux le Vicomte

If Vaux le Vicomte seems familiar, it is.  The quintessential French Chateau has been featured in many films and television shows, fashion and travel advertising spreads.

At Vaux le Vicomte, Le Notre stretched his vision. This was the first time gardens were planned with symmetry on the grand scale.  Standing on the stone steps behind the Chateau, we followed Le Notre’s cultivated gestures down the staged terracess to the traversal pool and up the hill to the vanishing point on the horizon a mile away.  By restructuring the grade, Le Notre expressed  an overall ordering and conquering of nature, the hallmark of his era.

Nicolas Fouquet, finance minister for Louis XIV, commissioned Le Notre and gave the budding landscape designer his head.Fouquet never got the chance to enjoy the estate; he was dismissed from his post, then  recalled.  Finished the gardens in 1661.

The trees are severely cut back to retain their shape.  Eighty years old in 1991, they have been replaced many times since Le Notre’s time. Cut to a triangular cone shape, the boxwood at the corners where paths intersect defines the squares of lawn. When viewed from a distance, the knobbed boxwood punctuating the estate looks like chess pieces in play on a board.  Intricate weave of low hedgery.

During the long walk back, a tour of the perimeter and cross paths is more than 2 miles, we speculated that the after dinner stroll kept the nobles lean. As you face the Chateau at the lower traversal pool where the swans parade, on the right there is a path tunneled through a strip of woods that ends at the chateau. To reach the path, go up the staircase at the extreme end of the pool to a cleared area on top with two rows of topped off trees constructed into an arbor that gives excellent shade in the summer. The path runs parallel to the formal gardens and through the branches one can observe people strolling in the gardens.    The opportunity to survey tamed nature from behind a veil of trees left intentionally wild is exactly the kind of romantic juxtaposition that amused Le Notre’s social contemporaries. Whether the nature path was part of Le Notre’s plan is not clear, but indeed he would have enjoyed the horticultural joke.

Privately owned, this is said to be the most attentively restored of Le Notre’s efforts.    Address 7 Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte, Maincy. Candlelit tours and other events are available. Tickets purchased online are reduced price.


Open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from 9th March until 11th November 2014.
On 29th and 30th November; On 6th, 7th, 13th and 14th December and from 20th December 2014 until the 4th January 2015. Closed on 25th December and 1st January.


The Chateau de Maintenon is 18 kms from Chartres. It was the private home of Madame de Maintenon, the second spouse of Louis XIV.  With the able guidance of  LeNotre, the park and gardens were designed by Louis XIV and Madame de Maintenon.  The garden is small so you can easily tour it without a guide.  Middle ages era structure was enlarged after Madame de Maintenon purchased it in 1675.   Schematic drawings of the unfinished aqueduct designed by Vauban to carry water from the Eure River to Versailles may be on display and finished pillars of the aqueduct dominate one end of the property.


Chateau de Maintenon, Place Aristide Briand, 28130 Maintenon, Eure et Loir.  Opening and closing times vary depending on the season and day of the week.

Artists in Collioure


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Watercolor of brightly colored houses and boat in a small port.

Watercolor sketch of Collioure, France © L Peat O’Neil, 2001.

The Colors of Catalonia, by Virginie Raguenaud, offers a fascinating look at the artists who lived and painted in Catalonia.  She writes about crisscrossing the region following traces of famous painters — Matisse, Soutine, Gauguin, Picasso, Miró —  to name just a few, and of many other writers, poets, architects and musicians who found sustenance for creativity in the dramatic vistas of the region.

The book’s title suggests the magnificent light which softens the craggy coastline and brightens the seaports. I plan to use this book for future travel to Prades, Céret and Cadaqués.

Notre-Dame-des-Anges in  Collioure. Sketch © L. Peat O'Neil, 2001.

Notre-Dame-des-Anges in Collioure. Sketch © L. Peat O’Neil, 2001.

The book includes a short biography for each of the painters, sculptors, film makers,art collectors and writers.  Some of the names might not be widely known as Georges Braque, André Derain or Salvador Dalí, which makes this new book all the more attractive as a guide to regional travel and art history.


Collioure Art Residency

Tourist Office of Collioure

Brothels and Dance Halls :: A Walk On the Steamy Side of Art


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Paris Nightclub scene by H. de Toulouse-Lautrec

No walk through the artist’s Montmartre would be complete without mentioning the louche side. Along with the tax free drinking, brothels catering to every combination and whimsy dotted the streets around Place Blanche, Pigalle, and Montmartre. Not much has changed in the 21st century, though the tax-free status has surely vanished. Back in the day, these areas were outside of the urban center so a devil-may-care attitude towards regulatory authority prevailed.

A belle époque facade barely visible at 72, Blvd. de Rochechouart bears witness to the passions and frolics of the gay nineties. Today, that address is the L’Elysee Montmartre, nightclub.  Opened in 1881, the Chat Noir, 84 rue de Rochechouart was a favorite haunt close to the brothel at 2 rue de Steinkerque where Toulouse-Lautrec struggled with the effects of the absinthe that contributed to his deteriorating health and possibly, his early death at 36. After the last bistro closed for the morning, he would wrest a few more hours of fun sketching and painting the femmes of the night.

An industrious tramp around the area reveals only a few facades, art nouveau colored glass windows and a vintage wrought iron canopy over a doorway on rue Steinkerque, precious few traces of those earlier risque tenants. Among the cloth dealers and discount stores offering cheap household goods and shoes, it’s possible to spot some professionals, but the ostrich plumes and silk chemises worn in the opulent privacy of a brothel depicted by Toulouse-Lautrec have given way to fake fur and fishnet on the street.

Brothels are not enduring establishments, so the nightspots that provided subject matter for Toulouse-Lautrec in the rue d’Amboise or rue des Moulins,  and in rue Joubert are long gone. Toulouse-Lautrec was fond of spending time in the Lesbian bar, La Souris, in rue Breda,  now named rue Henri Menticer. His many eloquent pastels of the women are at the Musee Toulouse-Lautrec in Albi, his birthplace in south-west France.

The cafe-restaurant Le Grande Pinte, at number 28, ave. Trudaine, was founded in 1879 and was a neighborhood meeting place for many artists.  It is still a restaurant, Le Paprika.  In the 1980s, the place was called La Bouche Riche; names change, but the place remains.

Englishman at the Moulin Rouge by H. de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1892.

When known as Le Grande Pinte, Andre Gill, Carjat and the future King Edward VII supped there and the decor simulated themes from the Middle Ages, echoing the fascination of the English Pre-Raphaelite painters and poets for anything Medieval. The main floor of Le Grande Pinte was a cabaret founded by Laplace, a former art dealer.  For a while, the cabaret was called l’Ane Rouge.  The Prince of Wales was a frequent and dedicated visitor to the brothels in the quarter.

Artists in Chelsea, London


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Turner’s and Whistler’s London — Footsteps of the Artists in Chelsea and Covent Garden

“I wander thro’ each charter’d street 
Near where the charter’d Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe. “
…from London by William Blake.

Cremorne Gardens No. 2 by James McNeill Whistler, 1877.

Cremorne Gardens No. 2 by James McNeill Whistler, 1877.

Painted anecdotes about London and her citizens crowd the walls of the National Gallery, the Portrait Gallery, the British Museum, the Tate, and the Courtould Gallery — all in London.    J. M.W. Turner’s seascapes and landscapes are displayed in many other museums. James McNeill Whistler’s paintings created in London and Paris are the bedrock of the Freer Gallery collection in Washington.

After studying the originals, a pilgrimage in the steps of the artists fleshes out the history. See London as the artists did; feel through the brick and pavement to the bare bones of the lives displayed in the landscapes, street scenes and portraits.

It was the charter’d Thames, water swirling and mirroring brilliant colors of sun and fire, that lured  J.M.W. Turner.

Thick-waisted and myopic, J. M. William Turner was that rarest of artists, a great success in his own lifetime. He was born in 23 April 1775 at 26 Maiden Lane above his father’s barber shop in the Covent Garden area. Home life was stressful with a mother who erupted in murderous tantrums which eventually landed her in an insane asylum.  Maybe she was overworked and had no help.

By 1804, Turner organized a gallery to exhibit his work at 64 Harley St. where he’d been living since 1804. In 1806 he acquired a house  at 6 West End, Upper Mall Hammersmith, keeping the Harley St. location as well.  Sometime around 1810 Turner changed addresses in London to 47 Queen Ann St. West, a skip and a jump from Harley St. By 1813, he’d designed and built a villa in Twickenham, named Solus Lodge and subsequently called Sandycombe Lodge.

Turner also is linked with Chelsea. He was attracted to the changing colors of the river.

Sunset by J.M.W. Turner.

Sunset by J.M.W. Turner.

Usually considered a painter of seascapes, Turner sketched and painted wherever he traveled, recording the passing scene. During his travels through Europe, watercolors and tablet at hand, he sketched public and private life – as played out in the streets and in the intimacy of various stately homes where he was invited by the nobility.

Chelsea, the Thames and Cremorne Gardens

Turner decided to buy a cottage in Chelsea to serve as hideout where he could work. Downriver from the City, Chelsea was then a waterfront neighborhood, not yet expensively chic as during the 19th century and today. He’d kept a painter’s hide out on the Thames before, at Sion Ferry House in Isleworth in the early 1800’s. Social London thought Turner lived with his family, but he spent most of his time at the cottage near Cremorne Gardens , at 118/119 Cheyne Walk, at the corner of Cremorne Road from 1846 until his death 19 Dec. 1851. His memorial is in St. Paul’s Cathedral.

The mystic artist and poet William Blake was married in the same church where Turner studied the colors of sunsets, St. Mary’s, Battersea Parish Church on the south side of the Thames. He and Sophia are buried in Bunhill Fields, London.

Wm and Sophia Blake tombsone, Bunhill Fields, City Road, Finsbury.

Turner’s London is thriving along the Thames. The day’s moods live on and through a squinted eye, the boats and wharves look almost the same as what Turner painted. We can thank his eye astigmatism for paintings awash in brilliant sun, mist and waves splashed on the canvas.

One later Chelsea resident, Henry James, wrote: “The Embankment, which is admirable if not particularly interesting, does what it can, and the mannered houses of Chelsea stare across at Battersea Park like eighteenth-century ladies surveying a horrid wilderness.” (from English Hours)  The American painter John Singer Sargent rendered Henry James’ portrait in oil which hangs in London’s National Portrait Gallery.

James McNeill Whistler, flamboyant ex-pat icon for many caped, incorrigible artists who came after him, also lived in Chelsea. Like Turner, Whistler gravitated to the steamy, foggy Thames embankment. There were sojourns in Paris, but Chelsea was home. The

Etching by James McNeill Whistler. University of Glasgow.

Etching by James McNeill Whistler. University of Glasgow.

Nocturnes with fog low on the river, were painted a few steps from his houses, at  101 Cheyne Walk (7 Lindsey Row at the time) and 21 Cheyne Row in 1890.  Whistler shuttled between Paris and 72 Cheyne Walk, his final home in Chelsea, until his death, July 17, 1903.  He is entombed with his wife Beatrix in London’t Chiswick Cemetery.

Whistler wandered along the river in the evening, mulling his dreams, then later would go out in a boat with a hired assistant and draw in the dead of night. Sometimes capturing the lights of the Cremorne pleasure gardens.  Whistler probably never saw the earlier Vauxhall amusement parks twinkling ion the south side of the Thames, but Hogarth was a regular.

Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Old Battersea Bridge by James A. McNeill Whistler, 1872-75.

Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Old Battersea Bridge by James A. McNeill Whistler, 1872-75.

Some of Whistler’s nocturnes, the murky paintings of the Thames lit by coal fires and moonlight cutting through, were painted from a narrow Chelsea house with a garden facing the Battersea Bridge. Whistler and other Chelsea artists painted the old wooden Battersea which was replaced in 1890 with a steel span.

Turner and Whistler’s London is thriving along the Thames. The day’s moods live on and through a squinted eye, the boats and wharves look almost the same as what Whistler or  Turner painted. We can thank Turner’s eye astigmatism for paintings awash in brilliant sun, mist and waves splashed on the canvas. Turner is buried at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Breathe in London and you breathe history. The streets and walls, the pavement, the people and most of all the river, transmit stories of London lives. Look at London through the lives and works of artists who recorded the city’s nuances and you’ll see a richer, deeper place.

Going there:  The A-Z London Street Atlas (called the “A to Z”) is the best tool for navigating London in digital or paper versions.  The index of all streets and multiple pages of enlarged map segments make this the standard guide for London.

Chelsea and Covent Garden are close to the center of London and easily reached by tube, bus or taxi. GPS, maps or A-Z Atlas in hand, walk through the neighborhoods. Usually, you’ll see a blue metal plaque on the outside of a historically significant building

Where to Eat:   Pétrus, the famous Gordon Ramsey flagship, caught flak (aka great publicity) during the dot-com flash era when a handful of financial managers spent some $65,000 on wine during dinner.

Dante Rosetti Self-portrait, 1847, two years before he met Elizabeth Siddal.

Dante Rosetti Self-portrait, 1847, two years before he met Elizabeth Siddal.

Pre-Raphaelite artist and model Lizzie Siddal and her painter-poet lover Dante Rossetti, lived in Chelsea at 16, Cheyne Walk.  It’s thought they favored meals at Simpson’s-in-the-Strand.

Rule’s Restaurant, 35 Maiden Lane, claims to be London’s oldest restaurant and probably is!  Close to Turner’s birthplace at 26 Maiden Lane, long ago, the restaurant was an artist’s and writer’s hangout. Today, the prices are a bit steep for the scribbling class, but the atmosphere compensates and then some.

Where to see the art: The Tate Gallery offers one-stop viewing of a rich collection of Turner’s works, as well as paintings, drawings and prints by Whistler, Blake and Hogarth.

For John Singer Sargent’s portraits, visit the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery. Hogarth’s Rake’s Progress can be seen in the Soane Museum, in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London. The National Gallery displays Hogarth’s Marriage a la Mode and other works.

Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec in Place Pigalle Neighborhood


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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec shifted his attention to the Moulin Rouge, 82 Boulevard de Clichy, when the can‑can dancers became all the rage in the 1890s. Dozens of dancers still kick their booties to the rafters on the Moulin Rouge stage, the “greatest cabaret in the world.”

Steps away, rue Frochot, which runs between Place Pigalle and rue Victor Masse,  was home to the Dihau family at number 6.  Monsieur Désiré Dihau, the family patriarch, was a cousin of Toulouse-Lautrec.  The artist designed and illustrated the covers of published new songs by Désiré Dihau, who was a bassoonist with the Paris Opera

Side view of a man in dark 19th c. top hat and coat, seated in a garden, reading a newspaper.

Désiré Dihau. painted by H. de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Orchestra. Toulouse-Lautrec painted his portrait at least twice.  Edgar Degas also painted M. Dihau.

Toulouse-Lautrec was a frequent visitor their third floor flat at number 6, rue Frochot, a small cream-colored building, now with a theater at street level.

Toulouse-Lautrec’s last art studio was at number 15 ave. Frochot,  a private tree-shaded cul-de-sac that takes its name from rue Frochat which is nearly parallel.  Elaborate locked wrought iron and stained glass doors secure this enticing street with an artistic history.

Ave Frochot Paris

Iron gates to private street in Paris.

Gate to ave. Frochot, Paris 9eme.

Famous residents of the gated street (or its more travelled namesake – sources are difficult to verify)  include Alexandre Dumas (père) and Apollonie Aglaé Sabatier, a friend of the poet Baudelaire.  Victor Masse, the composer, died at number 1 ave. Frochot, which is partly visible from outside the secured gates.


Artists knocked on the door of the third and fourth floor studio-museum-apartment duplex at 37, rue Victor Masse just off ave. Trudaine. They sought the advice and approval of the master.  His friends, the painters Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt, visited to discuss their evolving styles and exploration into other genres.  Degas also regularly spent time with the Manet-Morisot family in Passy, then a suburb of Paris, now the 16th arrondissement.

Degas moved to number 6, Blvd. de Clichy, where he died September 26, 1917 at the age of 83.  A short film of Edgar Degas walking in Paris in 1914 is available on YouTube.

Degas is buried in Montmartre Cemetery, (20, ave. Rachel or walk down the steps from rue Caulaincourt) in Division 4 along ave. Montebello, one of several streets inside the Cemetery.

François Truffaut grave stone in Montmartre Cemetery.

François Truffaut grave stone in Montmartre Cemetery.


Company there includes Zola, Berlioz, Offenbach, Heinrich Heine, the artist Fragonard and 20th c. film director Francois Truffaut.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec died at the Chateau de Malromé
in the Gironde on September 9, 1901 at the age of 36. He was buried about 2 kilometers from the Chateau in the cemetery at Verdelais.

A Walk in Montparnasse


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Walking Around Montparnasse, Paris

The name was a bit of a joke, a sly reference to Mont Parnassas, the highest point near Delphi, mythic seat of the god Apollo and the Muses, inspiration of poetry and song.  The topography south of the Seine is considerably flatter than Delphi, but the high-minded notion matched the aspirations of the writers and painters who scrambled to Paris to follow their muse.

It wasn’t until the 20th century that Montparnasse suffered the contractions and upheavals that changed parts of the right bank so radically during the 19th century.  When the boulevard construction directed by Baron  Haussmann churned neighborhoods on the right bank, Montparnasse was too sleepy to be included in the revamping.  The hidden neighborhoods, rustic stables and factory lofts offered quarters an artist could afford well into the 1960’s.  But then, the post World War II boom claimed low-rise blocks for office towers, shopping centers and transportation hubs, a process that accelerated during the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Some of the artists’ hideaways in Montparnasse still exist, despite construction of office towers, roads and apartment complexes.  Recently, a friend and I discovered an impasse off Ave. du Maine, one of those dead-end alleys lined with artists’ studios and galleries.  We were in search of a photo exhibition announced in ‘Time Out Paris,’ but the show was still being hung and not yet open to the public.  Instead, we prowled along the passageway, peeking into vacant studios, eyeing the one used by a floral arranging business and wondering what type of social pull it took to rent one of these historic spots. Surely, we realized, this was the same artists’ courtyard at 21, Ave. du Maine where Marie Vassilieff opened her studio as a canteen for artists in 1915.  Vassilieff served soup, dinners, fellowship and a helping hand during the terrible war years.

La Ruche, Artists' Studios. Montparnasse, Paris

La Ruche, Artists’ Studios. Montparnasse, Paris

Another remnant still standing is the curious building called La Ruche.  An early artists’ collective, La Ruche, (‘the Hive’) hides in the rue de Dantzig  (Metro: Convention, 15th arr.) a studio-refuge for artists and artisans.  The space was inaugurated in 1902 by Alfred Boucher who had salvaged small round wooden structures made by Gustave Eiffel for the 1900 Paris Universal Exhibition. The recycled wooden buildings were remade into miniscule studios stacked on top of each other.

Art Academies and Immigrants

Montparnasse was a neighborhood for art students, dealers and shops selling pigments and other supplies for the students enrolled in nearby art academies.  Henri Matisse opened an art academy in 1908 at 33 Blvd. des Invalides.  Matisse was a busy teacher, impresario and artists during those years.

The Colarossi School, established in the 1870’s, took over the Academy Suisse and moved to the courtyard of 10 rue de la Grande Chaumiere.  The Academy Julian differed from other art academies: women were admitted to the school and permitted to draw nude males in life study studio classes.

In the Studio. Academy Julian, Paris. by Marie Bashkirtseff, 1881.

In the Studio. Academy Julian, Paris. by Marie Bashkirtseff, 1881.

During the years of revolution, hardship and war, Paris provided the flame of salvation for Europe’s refugees.  As the city of light and reason, the city drew immigrants from troubled countries to the east, people fleeting from failing monarchies, war and repressive governments.

Some left the Russia and the territories of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before World War I.  During the war and following the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, the floodgates opened to immigrants.  An international wave of immigrants from dozens of countries arrived after the Armistice in November, 1918 bringing artists, sculptors, writers and political poets.  The international community settled in Montparnasse. A list of these artists reads like a museum collection: Chagall, Dobrinsky, Epstein, Rivera, Matisse, Leger, Modigliani, Laurencin. Some are lesser known:  Indenbaum and the Polish-born Moise Kisling form the nucleus of the Ecole de Paris, the melting pot of all the refugees and émigrés.

Writers who lived in Paris at the time note in their memoirs that  Montparnasse was different after World War I.  The streets were lit up with

theater and cinema marquees.  The “Triangle of Gold of Montparnasse,” as it was called, was marked by three beacon-cafes: La Closerie des Lilas, La Rotonde and Le Dome.

While the big cafes attracted big spenders, the artists hung out there too.   When La Coupole opened, people wandered in and out round the clock.  La Rotonde attracted art dealers, writers, journalists and politicians.  Modigliani frequented Le Dome café intent on selling drawings to anyone with money.  Henry Miller caged meals from friends who willingly bought him dinner for his entertaining conversation.

Paris Cafe. Photo ©  P. Mikelbank

Paris Cafe. Photo © P. Mikelbank

The cafes became second homes for the artists and writers who didn’t have the space, seats or heat to accommodate clutches of friends.  Exhibitions were organized in the cafes to attract customers and newspaper attention.  The first exposition in a cafe was organized by Auguste Clerge, in the Cafe du Parnasse.  At just about the same time, a group of artist friends organized a show in Montmarte and in a Latin Quarter cafe called la Comete.  Cafe Petit Napolitain mounted a show called “Boite a Couleurs” and another show was held at Cameleon.  Once these art shows in cafes proved the artists could make a little money and the cafe owners would increase traffic, other cafes followed suit.

In due time, dealers snapped up the work of the best artists.  One of the most successful gallery owners, Berthe Weill steadily expanded her clientele, befriending artists and clients in the grand cafes. At first working out of her home, she moved through successive stores in rue Victor Masse, rue Taitbout and rue Lafitte. Showing women artists as well as men, she celebrated her 25th anniversary in 1926 when her artists held a huge fete for her at Dagorno.

Zadkine Museum, 100 bis, rue d’Assas, in the 6th arrondisment, demonstrates that even as late as the 1920’s and 1930’s there were areas of Montparnasse with real gardens, stately trees and outbuildings.  Cubist sculptor Ossip Zadkine constructed a folly in the backyard atelier, his sylvan corner in the middle of Montparnasse.

The neighborhood revolved around the Gare Montparnasse.  Trains departing this station headed to Brittany so it’s no surprise that the artists who lived in Montparnasse turned to the Atlantic for en plein air painting during the 1880’s and afterwards.  The Bretons and other western country people brought their fish and victuals to the city.  Bistro de la Gare, 59 Blvd. Montparnasse dates to that time period, with Art Nouveau features that gave it a place on the historic monuments registry.


Footsteps of the Artists: Mary Blume Observes


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Paris Travel notes from:  A French Affair by Mary Blume

When I read this charming book about living in France years ago, I scribbled a page of notes on places and people covered in her book that I’d like to know more about.  Though Blume was a Paris-based correspondent a while ago,  the subjects are timeless. I found contemporary information online for all the topics in my notes.

Down and Out in Paris?

Soupe Populaire on Rue Clément, near Mabillon metro, is a  cafeteria for the poor,  the homeless, vagabonds, nomads and those who can make a small donation. 

Places to Go

A vineyard still exists in Montmartre at Clos Montmartre.  And there are other wine makers growing the grapes in the city for micro production.  The wine  sold at Cafe Mélac, 42 Rue León Frot comes from grapes produced by vines embracing the bistro.   Jacques Mélac is the proprietor who makes Paris-grown wine with the “Château-Charonne” label.

La Balajo – Founded in 1936, it was once a bal-musette / apache bar, then a nighclub where Edith Piaf sang.  Then it became a disco at  9,  rue de Lappe near Bastille.

Paris Shopping Tips

Dehillerin for the best selection of kitchen utensils.

* Madeleine Gely for umbrellas, Blvd. St. Germain.  Now owned by a different family than the founder, but dedicated to the same principles of quality and service.

* Tang Brothers, in 7 locations, are comprehensive, immense Asian supermarkets.

Some Parisian Creatives

Classic Vionnet bias cut draped dress.

Classic Vionnet bias cut draped dress.

Mme. Madeleine Vionnet invented the bias cut clothing trend in the 1920s, freeing women from corsets and constriction. Her fashion design atelier began on rue de Rivoli in 1912.  She moved the company Vionnet to ave. Montaigne later. During the 1930s, she dressed Dietrich, Garbo and Hepburn. Several declines and revivals followed, the most recent in 2009.

Thérèse Bonney was an American photographer who was an

Thérèse Bonney, American photo-journalist during WWII in France.

Thérèse Bonney, American photo-journalist during WWII in France.

active photo-journalist during World War II and lived in Paris until her death in 1978.  She documented the impact of war on children and women, sneaking into the countryside to report the horror of war.  Bonney said: “I go forth alone, try to get the truth and then bring it back and try to make others face it and do something about it.”

Painter Auguste Renoir is well known, but his model Jeanne Samary is not so famous.

Jeanne Samary, actress and artist's model. Portrait by Félix Nadar, 1877.

Jeanne Samary, actress and artist’s model. Portrait by Félix Nadar, 1877.

He painted her often between 1877-1880 while she sought publicity to advance her acting career.  A decade later, Renoir married Aline Victorine Charigot in 1890, with whom he had already had one child prior to Jean, who was born in a stone house in Montmartre, near Sacre-Coeur Basilica, which wasn’t yet completed in 1894.  Jean Renoir, the son, directed films and for a long time lived on a hidden, tree lined street in Pigalle against the blackened remains of wall between the old boundaries of Paris and the open hunting grounds of Montmartre. He died in Los Angeles in 1979.