In the Art Part of the Latin Quarter

rue des Beaux Arts

The rue des Beaux Arts, looking towards the rue de la Seine.

Rue de Seine, Beaux Arts and Friends

Paris:- Friday, 18. April 1997:- This is another one of the brightest days of the year. Just right for a little stroll in the Quartier Latin - after starting with a bit of the boulevard Saint-Germain with all the new leaves speckling the pavements with shadows.

I go down one of the little streets, rue de la Boucherie or Echaude, towards the river on the rue de Seine, past Jacob and the alley-like Visconti - to Beaux Arts.

The Ecole Nationale Superieur des Beaux Arts is on the west - bordering on the rue Bonaparte; the Institut de France is on the east and the quai Malaquais is straight ahead.

Here are countless galleries and bookstores, here are art supply shops and picture framers; and of course here are a few bars and cafés as well, for thirsty artists and their humble dealers. There are few establishments with new shop-fronts; mostly these are older places, as they were then - except for recent repainting, usually in dark green or blue.

The rue des Beaux Arts has all of these, lining both sides. There is also, at number 13, L'Hôtel, which is a hotel. The plaque on the left is inscribed, "Oscar Wilde - Poéte et Dramaturge - Né à Dublin le 15 Octobre 1856 est mort dans cette maison le 30 Novembre 1900." At 46, under an assumed name, after 'two days of agony.'

The plaque to the right of the hotel's entry, has L'Hôtel, rue des Beaux Arts the following inscription, "Ici vecut Jorge Luis Borges 1899 - 1986 - Ecrivain Argentin - lors de ses frequents séjours à Paris de 1977 à 1984."

The hotel where Oscar Wilde died in 1900.

The rue des Beaux Arts has no great history; it began as a passage when it was opened in 1824 after the demolition of the Hôtel de La Rochefoucauld. In the 19th century, people with names like Lacordaire, Montalembert and Coux, founded the first 'free' school in May of 1831 and were promptly fined 100 francs each for having done so. Pradier lived at number four, Gérard de Nerval at number eight, Fantin-Latour had an atelier on the ground floor of number eight in 1868; and Corot, Mérimée, and J-J. Ampère all lived at various times at number ten.

The Hôtel de La Rochefoucauld, started from two buildings in 1538, and until its demolition, had a very big history. Some of it goes like this:

Roger du Plessis, born in 1598; count of Liancourt and duke of the Roche-Cuyon; married to the daughter of Maréchal de Schonberg since 1620, bought the hôtel after the death of Henri de la Tour, who also had a lot of sub-names and titles. Roger had the hôtel rebuilt by Lemercier, for his son Henri-Roger to live in. Henri-Roger was killed in 1646 at the siege of Mardik. Roger's brother-in-law, Maréchal Charles de Schomberg, died in the hôtel in 1656. He was the husband of Marie de Hautefort, one of Louis XIII's ex-girlfriends. Shortly afterwards, somebody's nephew, François VI de Rochefoucauld, Governor of Poitou, one-time hero of the Fronde and author of the 'Maximes,' lived there. His son, François VII de La Rochefoucauld, prince of Marsillac, married his cousin, Jeanne de Plessis-Liancourt, who was 14, in 1659. This is the reason this building was called the Hôtel La Charette Bar de La Rochefoucauld. I say it's as good as reason as any.

Typical bar in the rue des Beaux Arts, has art dealer customers.

After the Revolution, the hôtel came down in stature; part of it used as warehousing and public baths were in another part. David rented part of it in 1807 and Madame Ancelot had a literary salon in it for a time before it was demolished in 1825, a year... after... the rue de la Beaux Arts was put through where it had been. So much for the accuracy of my source.

The block, closer to the Seine, was mostly occupied by the Palais de la Reine Margot, sometime after some dramatic events of 5. April 1606. She was known for being pious, having a good time and for never paying her debts, and she died on 27. March 1615.

Louis XIII, who inherited the palace, sold it in 1623 for 1,315,000 livres in order to pay off Queen Margot's creditors. Five high state functionaries bought it for a real-estate speculation, which gave birth to a new quartier.

Morsels of the original hôtel are supposed to be still in evidence at numbers six, eight, ten and ten-bis, rue de la Seine. One of the bits; numbers two and four on rue de la Seine and number one, quai Malaquais, have disappeared. Before doing so, many people who used to be famous for a great variety of things, bought, sold, remodeled, lived, married, had children, invented things and died; and over time there were fires, and unpaid rents and other disasters.

Today, walking around these streets - Bonaparte, Beaux Arts, rue de la Seine, the quai Malaquais - I don't know the things above because I will only look them up later. I just see what there is and think about it as it is; although I know full-well that there will be a long history, full of names and possibly of titles.

But that is later and today the sun is shining and in these narrow streets there is plenty of blue shade and grey paving stones underfoot. There is too much traffic coming down from Saint-Germain to the river, but it comes in bursts and in between them, there is almost a deserted silence.

Every once in a while I see a plaque on a wall and I read most of them; and I think that somebody has been very sparing in the 'plaques' department. One on Bonaparte I think I should write down because it is for a famous painter, from only a hundred years ago, but in the end I don't. If all the famous people who lived there were listed, all the walls would be covered in plaques.

So I look it up, now that I'm curious, and it Edouard Manet, who was born in 1832 at number four, rue Bonaparte. This place was inside Queen Margot's palace at one time, but in 1541 it was owned by the surgeon, Jean Bouyon. Later it was the hospital of the Frères de Saint-Jean-de-Dieu, until Queen Margot came along and bought them out and they moved to the rue des Saint-Pères. Manet's birthplace is a much-later, modest house from the middle of the 17th century.

There is nobody around the Beaux Arts complex of buildings because of the school holidays. The show of last year's graduate work is not only closed, but over by a couple of weeks. The school's bookstore seems to be closed too even if it is during 'open' hours. Stonemen are working on repairing a bit of 16th century sidewalk in the shadow of the school on the quai side.

Great cavalry charges of traffic comes along the quai from the east, and every once in a while it is stopped, and a tiny glut of it flows out of the rue Bonaparte; into what was supposed to be the left-bank expressway - but it was never built; although sometimes it is hard to tell.

On the river side, the leaves on the plane trees are the light green of spring and they are fluttering in the breeze from the northeast. Where it is sunny, it is getting almost warm, and a lot of the bouquinists have opened for business and the pleasure of strollers.

Away from the narrow streets and their buildings, the Seine is very bright as is the Louvre across the way. The Pont des Arts flies across the river on its lace-work supports and as many people are sitting on it as walking across it.

The cupola of the Institut de France, looming above the place de l'Institut, has no effect on the bridge it so squarely faces. While it looks solemn and formal, back-lit by the sun, it is more pleasant to look in the opposite direction, Rue Bonaparte and the school to the arched port in the Louvre's facade - through which the fountain's spray in the Cour Carrée can be seen.

The School of the Beaux Arts on the rue Bonaparte.

To do 'my' block today, I know I should go back into the beginning of the rue de Seine - but I know there is a little corner there that requires its own little story - so, for today, I knock it off in the sunshine on the Pont des Arts by giving the barges tied up to the quai a good once-over as well as the tip of the Ile de la Cité.

The river is nearly devoid of traffic for some reason and it is very peaceful to be on the bridge and not be distracted by these rainbow-colored water-skeeter-like excursion barges.

There is a huge sky over everything here and it easy to ignore the shiny bug cars whizzing along the right-bank expressway; the wind is whipping their sound far away.

I have a sudden urge to see what the wind is doing to the fountain's spray in the Cour Carrée, and after another last look around, I go to check it out.

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