Montmartre, Picasso’s Bohemia

From its height of 130 meters, the Montmartre hill dominates all of Paris. Besides, we're not really in Paris here. It floats there like a country air. On every street corner we come across the ghosts of a prestigious past. Located in the 18 arrondissements, like an island overlooking the Parisian ocean,lhe mound is a real belvedere for tourists, but also for artists.

A few steps from the majestic silhouette of the Sacré-Cœur, we find the largest open-air fireworks workshop in the world, the place of the mound. Nearly 300 painters and portrait painters come here every day to earn a living. This old public square opened in 1635 was frequented at the beginning of the 20th century by all of Montmartre's bohemians, painters, singers, and poets.

Pablo Picasso was one of them. The Spanish painter lived in Montmartre for nearly 10 years which would have a lasting impact on his work. It is here that he will experience part of his blue, cold and melancholic period, then his pink, happy and light period.. But when he arrived at the age of 20 straight from Spain, the setting was very different.

Montmartre, La Bohème de Picasso

Picasso's Montmartre was similar to a country town where mills appear above the old maquis, farms, stables where people went to get milk in the morning. Young women were returning from the mound square with an arm on their shoulder, because they were still going to draw water from the fountain, there was no water in the houses yet. The gap with Paris was total.

Even today, we can see Montmartre from the beginning of the 20th century.

All you have to do is go to rue le Pic, push a gate and climb a few steps, we here we are in what we called the Montmartre maquis. At the time, it was a wasteland, almost a shantytown of cabins and jails where marginalized people, ragpickers and young artists lived. Today it is a plot preserved from time, sheltered from the hustle and bustle of the street. A little haven of peace that the Montmartrois jealously guard. 

Montmartre, La Bohème de Picasso

Picasso’s arrival in Montmartre

Picasso arrives for the Universal Exhibition of 1900, in a Paris in full intellectual ferment and it is in Montmartre that he settles, a district already charged with an aura artistic, in whichVan Gogh, Manet, Degard, Renoir have appeared. As for his predecessors, Montmartre was an inexhaustible source of inspiration for Picasso who then painted his most ordinary daily life: the ball at the Moulin de la Galette in the style of the Impressionists, and even the view from his room over the blue roofs of Paris. . Picasso chose Montmartre because it had a large community of artists. Especially many Spanish artists.

Montmartre, La Bohème de Picasso


The Bateau-Lavoir a world of creation 

CThis is where he managed to have a workshop at a very reasonable price. This workshop located on the old Place Ravignan is the bateau-lavoir. Nicknamed by the poet Marc Jacob, great friend and admirer of Picasso because of his architecture and his laundry drying on the windows. Montmartre, La Bohème de Picasso

When Picasso arrives at the wash house, it is an old building which has charm but which is completely dilapidated. He only had one tap on the 2nd floor where he had neither running water nor electricity. Picasso painted with candles in the evening, or by the light of an kerosene lamp. These were truly extreme conditions of poverty. A gang forms around the young Spaniard whose wash boat becomes the gathering point. Marc Jacob and Guillaume Apollinaire, George Brak and even his first great love, the model Fernande Olivier. This entire artistic entourage forms a real emulation around Picasso. And it is in this workshop that the young Spaniard will revolutionize painting. 

If the wash boat is legendary, it is because it saw the birth of the young ladies of Avignon, the large painting which inaugurates cubism. It is a fundamental work of the Cubism movement! Above all, therethere is a real desire to break the codes, to represent perspective. With the young ladies of Avignon, he shows his clear interest in modern art. The boat washhouse is where Picasso was really able to invent something new. He thuswent from a gifted artist to a true creator. To paint these deconstructed bodies of prostitutes, Picasso will haunt the brothels of Montmartre and fill no less than 15 study notebooks. Destroyed in a fire in 1970, it will be completely rebuilt into 25 workshops which still house artists from all over the world today. Quarters without light have given way to bright rooms with high ceilings into which vegetation infiltrates. 

Montmartre, La Bohème de Picasso

A century later the light and greenery remain the same. But the lives of artists have changed a little. Before he didn't have a penny, he didn't have heating, Picasso was always outside. Now the workshops are more serious and those days are over. And it is also in this workshop that Picasso will experience the end of his blue period, melancholy following the death of his friend Casagemas followed by his more cheerful pink period, when he falls in love with Fernande. 

Montmartre, La Bohème de Picasso

AGILE RABBIT Picasso's Cabaret

Now going down the hill, we inevitably arrive at this absolute stronghold of Montmartre: the headquarters of Picasso and his gang “the agile rabbit”, thethe oldest cabaret in Paris looking like a country cabaret. Every evening behind its colorful and opaque windows, modern-day acrobats sing old French songs during vigils open to the public. The cabaret artists maintain an authentic Montmartre spirit, the same one that Picasso frequented a century earlier. 

The decor has not changed, the same tables, the same benches, there are no concessions, there are no microphones, there is no laser, nor radio as if the world is was frozen. 

Picasso and his friends spent entire nights around wooden tables, to the sound of the piano and the accordion, remaking art and the world. He will thus remain with the truculent father Frédéric owner who takes them under his wing. Frédé had directly recognized Picasso's talent, and the young Spaniard felt confident in the bar, his bar, a family atmosphere reigned. 

Montmartre, La Bohème de Picasso

Accustomed to taking what he has in front of him, he will make a painting of this cabaret that he loves so much, and he will offer it to Father Frédéric. As if to find a trace of his youth, Picasso will return to the agile rabbit throughout his life. 

Montmartre, La Bohème de Picasso

The Montmartre festivals in honor of Picasso 

Every October Montmartre is celebrated the grape harvest festival. For several days, the neighborhood wakes up to the sound of drums and small poulbots, world dances and brotherhood parades. At the origin of this festival, a great resistance movement of the inhabitants of Montmartre to which Picasso is no stranger. In 1929 Montmartre was threatened with destruction by the galloping urbanization of Paris. But the passage of this exceptional generation of artists with Picasso at the forefront will make Montmartre an untouchable sanctuary that the Montmartre people will defend. 

To defend the city, the Montmartres created an environmental movement, which will serve to fight against urbanization. Their action plan? Create the Freedom Square. The square is illegal with a fake plaque of the city of Paris, perfectly imitated, which initially was a simple wasteland. To taunt the city councilors, everyone celebrated the creation of the new square in very provocative ways.. It’s a victory, the land is declared unbuildable ! In 1933, in place of the square, the Montmartres replanted a vine whose harvest is celebrated every year and whose wine is sold for the benefit of the underprivileged. Picasso said “we will all return to rue Ravignan, in fact we will only have been happy there. “ 

Montmartre, La Bohème de Picasso

Picasso will keep Montmartre engraved in his heart all his life, the hill was his countryside. These artists and free spirits who inspired and supported him throughout his life allowed him to lead his own revolution. Even in Montparnasse, the other artists' district in which he then settled, he will never forget that it was Montmartre which saw the birth of his genius, and made him one of the greatest artists of the 20th century.