Journey Around the World – Montmartre, Paris, France

Sketching, Travel Sketching

Visiting the Musee de Montmartre and Suzanne Valadon’s Studio                           May, 2017

One of the reasons that I went back to Paris was to learn about the life of some of my favorite artists. I wanted to know about the social fabric of the times, where they lived and worked, who their friends were, and also to try and get a sense of what it was like to be an artist back then.

Montmartre is a hill in the north of Paris that is known mainly for its artistic history towards the end of the 19th century. Many artists such as Picasso, Renoir, Vincent van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec  lived and worked there taking advantage of the low rent in the area.  While visiting the Musee de Montmartre I discovered an artist I knew very little about. Her name was Suzanne Valadon and she lived and worked on the property that is now part of the museum.

Walking into her studio is like going back in time.  The sketch I did at the top of this post  shows the working part of her studio. She was born in 1865 and grew up in poverty. When she was 16 she worked in the circus as an acrobat until she got hurt.  She then went on to be a model for Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec and others.  During this time she learned how to paint by observing and learning their techniques while modeling. In the early 1890’s she befriended Edgar Degas who was impressed with her bold line drawings and bought a couple of her paintings.  She went on to paint for 40 years and became the first woman painter admitted to the Societe National des Beaux-Arts.

It all sounds great!  She has a beautiful studio in the artistic area of Paris and she has amazing artist friends that eclipse any education you would receive by going to art school. On the other hand her life was not easy, she was only 18 when she gave birth to her son Maurice. My understanding is that she was a single mother and her income at this time was from modeling.  Modeling was not so straight forward in those days.  Montmartre was a free loving kind of place during the “Belle Epoque” (1872-1914) and some artists expected or hoped for more from their models.  Being an artist back then was tough enough without being a female or being born into poverty.

As I sat in the lower garden behind the museum doing a sketch I imagined that many of the great artists such as Renoir had painted and sketched here.



Journey Around The World – Two Weeks in Paris, France

Travel Sketching

The Great Museums of Paris                                     The Louvre, May, 2017

This summer Lyn and I decided to go to Paris.  For Lyn this was a chance to go back to her old home in Maisons-Laffitte near Paris where she lived during her high school years.  For me, the last time I was in Paris was as a young art student traveling through Europe in search of the great masters of painting.  I wanted to see those paintings that I had studied in Art History class, and so together we went back in time 40 years to rediscover Paris and Lyn’s child hood.

When I was 20 years old and visiting the Louvre, I wasn’t that mature or self directed, and so there was a lot to see forty years later.  The sketch at the top of this post is from my sketch book in 1978.  If you compare this view with the same view today, you will see that I drew this a few years before the glass pyramid entrance way was to be built.

Now there are great line ups outside of the glass pyramid entrance to get into the Louvre. The Louvre is the world’s largest museum with over 35,000 objects on display.  It really doesn’t matter what day you go to the Louvre to visit, it is always busy except for the evenings. The average daily attendance is about 15,000 visitors per day.

Over our two weeks in Paris we went to the Louvre three times just to break it up a bit.  As much as I love art I could only handle three or four hours at a time. When you combine this with speaking french, walking the streets of Paris and all the other stimulus it made for big days.

For me I found that seeing the Louvre in sections allowed me to really savor and think about the artists represented there.  It allowed me to put some context around the art movements and where they fit into the bigger history of Paris, Europe and the world. Many people go to the Louvre with just a couple of hours available and so they rush around looking for the big three attractions; The Mona Lisa, The Winged Victory of Samothrace and Venus De Milo. With that done, they are off to see other things.

The history of The Louvre goes back to the late 12th century and is a big part of the history of Paris and is worth reading about if you plan to visit.  My favorite little nugget of history about the Louvre was regarding the Nazi occupation of Paris, France in May 1940. In the fall of 1939 the French decided to hide all the great art works from the Louvre.  They were secretly dispersed to various locations around France and remained hidden until the liberation of France in 1945.

My favorite moment of discovery at the Louvre was around seeing the Mona Lisa, arguably the most famous painting in the world due in large part to the fact that she was stolen in 1911. After patiently working my way forward in a large room with about 300 people that were all determined to take selfies with Lisa del Giocondo (Mona Lisa), I took a blurred picture of her and left the room.  In the hallway in front of me was another masterpiece by Leonardo Da Vinci called The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne painted a few years earlier than the Mona Lisa.  Nobody was looking at this incredible painting. Maybe it is just me, but I thought to myself that the figure of Saint Anne looks exactly like Lisa del Giocondo (considered to be the model for the Mona Lisa).