World's First Modern Art Factory

The place Emile-Goudeau and the Bateau-Lavoir
The birthplace of modern art is a modest Montmartre landmark.

No Boat, No Washing in Ex-Piano
Factory on Montmartre

Paris:- Wednesday, 25. June 1997:- Coming out of the métro Abbesses, I do not turn the wrong way again. I note it, look the way I am supposed to go, then go in the bar and have a café before setting out.

It is an ordinary bar, nearest the métro, and it has lots of views - of the place and the Saint-Jean de Montmartre church, and the near rue Yvonne-Le-Tac, and the rue des Abbesses coming in on the left, low, going past the church and going out at a different level on the right.

The red-brick church looks Orthodox, not Catholic. The brick-work is elaborate and it has a lot of brick details to look at. I am no student of architecture, but I do spend a lot of time looking at buildings. Somebody put a lot of thought into this church, making it look different from any other church.

Going to the right, in rue des Abbesses, it immediately opens into a triangular place, which has no name. The rue Durantin comes down the hill and into Abbesses on an angle and this makes the triangle, and another street shoots straight up from here.

In this way, after being on Abbesses for a whole 100 metres, I am going up rue Durantin instead. I meant to go along Abbesses to Lepic and take its big clockwise curve, as it climbs the butte.

As I go up Durantin I will tell you what I am doing, because it does not sound like I know. On top of the butte Montmartre there is Scare Coeur and the place du Tertre and everybody has to see these. A lot of people start off from métro Anvers Going up the rue Tholoze and go up rue de Steinkerque, and up the big stairs there through the park - or take the Funiculaire from the Square Willette. Regular armies of visitors do this.

I wrote about this part of Montmartre in winter. Oddball Montmartre fêtes have also been featured in Metropole, and I have been on the north side of the butte finding out about Utrillo and it was featured too.

The Moulin de la Galette looks down the rue Tholozé.

The guide book, after it gives the essentials about the place du Tertre and Sacre Coeur, merely says Montmartre is 'interesting' for the things you 'find to see' while walking around it. That is what I'm doing today in the rue Durantin, when I planned to be in the rue Lepic. This is about the fourth or fifth time I've 'planned' on 'seeing' the rue Lepic.

I've even planned a shortcut, in case it's raining hard or I'm tired, and I've written it on the back of a calendar page for 18. May. The shortcut is the rue Tholozé. It cuts off the loop part of Lepic.

Short in metre-distance, but long before I get as far as where Lepic comes in, I am in the dead-end rue Burq; to look at the building with 'Studio' on it at the end, behind the tree. Workmen are throwing interior walls out of the third floor window into a dumpster. Above 'Studio' a sign says, 'Radio Montmartre.' It looks like it is out of business and has given up its fantastic view.

The streets are all going up; when you look down them, then you see views of Paris between the buildings, or over the roofs and chimney tops. These are old-fashioned views, with lots of chimneys, lots of dormer windows, drain-pipes, stairs, stone, bit of iron in railings. There are no gaudy colors; just the faded yellows and peeling grays.

Curiosity pulls up or down, so long as the top is not the destination. Along rue Durantin, shops are closed and their shutters are down. Upper floors have louvered shutters on the windows. Other shops are open and they are ordinary businesses, in old shop fronts.

It has not been 'done up.' There are no postcard dealers at every corner, no yellow and red film for sale signs. Awnings and bits of textile flap in the wind. Women push babies in poussettes and ask me to get out of the way; the sidewalks are narrow and have iron poles in them to prevent parking.

There are short buildings at the tops of streets and tall buildings at the lower ends. Perspective goes out the window. Where things get extra steep roads stop and stairs begin. Stone slab stairs with iron hand-rails.

At the corner of my 'short-cut' street, rue Tholozé, I look up from my off-course rue Durantin, and see stairs and above them behind trees, is a moulin; its blades bare against the grey sky. It must be the rue Lepic.

Rue Tholozé has short buildings, tall buildings, windows with louvered shutters and its dumpster too. On Lepic, I see the moulin is up higher yet - but I do not see the way which runs to the left of it through to the avenue Junot.

On the street, there is a gate at the entry to the moulin - which is the Moulin de la Galette - but I am distracted by watching somebody coming up the rue Lepic. Also I want to see the rue d'Orchampt, to the right and Theatre de la Moulin when I get there, across the street is the moulin restaurant. I took a photo of it before, but it is hard to get at street level.

The theatre is behind the Moulin Radet, but is called Cinéma Moulin de la Galette.

Its moulin looks fake but it is the Moulin Radet. To see it better I go the short block to the place Marcel Aymé and read the story about the guy who walked through walls, including the Santé's. Rue Norvins starts here, and runs east, joins Lepic and forms part of the place du Tertre; but it is over the horizon.

This is also the end of the avenue Junot, and maybe the corner of the rue Girardon, because there is an impasse of the same name that looks like part of Junot. I turn around slowly because there are several tempting directions here, and see the Cinéma Moulin de la Galette. It is closer to the Moulin Radet, but it doesn't matter. Looking past it I see a bar I failed to see while standing beside it when I looked at the entry to the rue d'Orchampt.

Rain is starting which is no surprise. I walk the short block back and the bar is indeed a bar, but a very discreet one, without the usual stickers and signs. There is scaffolding at the entry of the rue d'Orchampt and it is very narrow. Then it opens out and a plaque on the wall identifies Dalida's house. If you mention her name, people of a certain age get sentimental - like with Piaf, although Piaf was longer ago.

Most of those people were around so long that they have whole generations of fans and their 'stars in the sidewalk' are plaques on walls all over Paris. Dalida was before my time, but I have seen TV audiences sniffling over 'homages' to her.

The rue d'Orchampt turns east in front of Dalida's house and she had a good view down it - down the larger part of the 136-metre long 18th century street. The moulin called Le Grand-Tour, made of stone, was between here and the rue Lepic, but 'disappeared' before the Revolution.

There is a set of well-kept two-story artist's ateliers at the end, at the corner of the rue Ravignan. Turn right here and it is the place Emile-Goudeau and the location of the Bateau-Lavoir.

Emile Goudeau was a poet and Montmartre singer, founder of the 'Hydropathes' club. The place, which is a widening of the rue Ravignan, was named after him in 1911. The odd-shaped place, has a public cast-iron fountain and canopy of trees; now dark, under spitting rain.

During the Empire, there was a guinguette here, named after a huge pear tree, the 'Poirier-sans-Pareil.' Parisians came to this 'Tivoli' to drink and dance and dine under the branches of this tree. This gaiety ended abruptly just before 1830, when the earth started to tremble on account of the underground gypsum mines. The dancing stopped and shortly afterwards there was a cave-in.

A flea-bag hotel on the corner of Ravignan and rue Berthe carried the name 'Poirier-sans-Pareil' and was famous as bohemian lodging at the end of the century. Around 1830, Alphonse Karr rented part of the ex-guinguette. He was a writer and he wrote about his 'Tivoli' over Paris, and was a pal of Alexander Dumas, who was then becoming known. Another artist pal was Gavarni, and the two of them were the first artists to live on Montmartre.

The guinguette was totally replaced about 1860 by a two-story, largely wooden, building. Constructed as a piano factory, around 1880 it was sub-divided into artist's ateliers and lodgings. According to the city plaque outside, Max Jacob christened the building 'Bateau-Lavoir' in 1889.

Inside it resembled an ocean liner, and it possessed only one water tap. Cubism was born in this building; Renoir lived here in 1885 and painted the 'Danse à la Ville' and 'Danse à la Campagne.' Suzanne Valadon worked as his model. Max Jacob Passage des Abbesses moved in around 1902, Juan Gris was here from 1906 to 1922, Kees Van Dongen in 1906-7, Amedo Modigliani in 1908, and Otto Friedlich from 1909 to 1911.

Another typical Montmartre 'street' is the passage des Abbesses.

Other tenants were Guillaume Appolinaire, André Salmon, Vlaminck, Braque, Dufy, and Pablo Picasso - for the first time - in 1904. Another nickname for the place was 'Villa Médicis de la Peinture Moderne.' Most of the artists moved out at the beginning of the war. The building burned down on 12. May 1970.

Today there is a modest shop-front with the name 'Bateau-Lavoir.' There is a modest window display, with faded black and white photographs. Pablo is very young in one of them. He lived a long time after the Bateau-Lavoir went into history.

It is dark in the place Emile-Goudeau. A few people walk through it, a few stop to look in the window for a few moments. Nobody reads the city's plaque outside the shop. It's dates don't match my source book's, but the names do.

I suppose the mine tunnels are still underneath and the place will not support weight. The place has no animation, no great monument; it could be in the province somewhere. There is a café on the corner of the rue Berthe, and another with a small terrace on the lower end, by the rue Garreau.

The noise modern art started has not stopped, but where it started has. Standing under the damp trees in the dim light, I see no yellow lights in the ateliers' windows. I see no group of artists exit, in animated conversation, heading across the place for an after-work 'appero.'

Yes, it is time for an 'appero.' The rue Garreau leads to the rue Durantin where there are living artists and when I turn left it drops down to my lost rue des Abbesses and I come at last to the rue Lepic, where I turn away from the butte and pass down through its marché part, past the Lux Bar, to the place Blanche.

I buy a paper in front of the métro entrance there. I don't read it. From the métro at the place des Abbesses to the place Blanche, it is about 550 metres, without shortcuts. My 'shortcut' probably amounted to about 1,436 metres and slightly over 100 years.

Not too far and not too old. No big sights or monuments, no big subjects and no banks at all. Not many people, little traffic on the roads, no loud sounds; not much fresh paint.

Just some winding streets, up and down, windows with shutters, roofs with chimneys, and the birthplace of modern art. All low-key, in the style Montmartre has adopted.

And except for a few exceptions, a style Montmartre maintains.


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