L A VIE BOHÈME The cornucopia of extraordinary artists, Montmartre defined a time when art was all encapsulating. By Sharmita Summugam.
Ihave always wished Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris would happen to me, but the era I’d love to go back in time to would be 1904 – the year a young Catalan painter, Pablo Picasso, and his group of artist friends descended upon the bohemian streets of Montmartre. What was it that drew those effervescent artists to the very top of that famed hill in Paris? Was it the brilliant red lights of spinning windmills at the Moulin de la Galette? The steep never-ending stairways that led to shady, cramped little bars? Those lively can-can girls in frilly tutus, teasing men with high kicks of their long legs? Or perhaps the colourful backdrop of cafes and people, life of Montmartre as it is?
The allure of Montmartre that also seduced many other artists (including Henri Matisse, André Derain, Amedeo Modigliani, Vincent van Gogh, Henri de ToulouseLautrec) is a fascinating bit of history that has captivated and inspired generations of creative minds. It was the end of an era, of decadence that defined the Belle Époque. New forms and techniques of painting were being discovered, bohemia was at its greatest, and artists from all over the world were making their way to this little village brimming with life.
Montmartre was the heart of bohemia; there was a sense of artistic self-consciousness that has come to characterise what Montmartre was. The libertine lifestyles led by artists filled their imaginations with wondrous stories, which were then painted on canvases. It was the beginning of an artistic revolution and Montmartre was the place to be. The backdrop, the everyday life of this charming village, was a source of inspiration in its own right. It was painted through prisms of emotions that each of these individual artists was experiencing. “My inner self, is bound to be in my canvas, since I’m the one doing it ... Whatever I do, it’ll be there. In fact, there’ll be too much of it. It’s all the rest that is the problem!” said Picasso of emotions and art with Montmartre in mind.
Van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Toulouse-Lautrec all trickled into Montmartre before Salvador Dalí, Picasso, Derain, Matisse, and others of their generation arrived. It was there that Renoir painted “Moulin de la Galette”, Van Gogh sketched the view from his attic window, and Picasso created “Le Lapin Agile (Harlequin With Glass)” in this wondrous atmosphere. There was a buzz of kaleidoscopic creativity with writers, painters, dancers, and musicians influencing one another, collaborating and creating. It was a flurry of excitement and these panoramic scenes were all depicted in the early works of Picasso, Matisse, Derian, and Georges Braque. Some say it was the birth of modern art itself. “Vegetable Gardens in Montmartre” by Vincent van Gogh
The bohemian village of Montmartre
“Caryatid” by Amedeo Modigliani, 1913-1914