A few years ago, after visiting Picasso museums in Spain and Switzerland, my husband and I set out to find Picasso in Paris. Spanish born, Picasso came to Paris as a young man at the dawn of the twentieth century where he influenced the art world for more than fifty years. As a young man, he lived in the bohemian Montmartre area, and during the First World War, he held court in Montparnasse. After becoming a world-famous millionaire, he took up residence in the elegant Étoile Quarter; and during the Second World War and after the liberation, he lived in the historic Saint-Germain area.
Following Picasso’s death in 1975, his heirs owed so much in taxes that they donated much of his art to the state. The collection is housed in the Musée Picasso , a 17th century hotel, called Hotel Salé in the Marais district. At the Musée Picasso, we enjoyed the art but we wanted to learn more about Picasso’s life in Paris. We started in Montmartre, where the Impressionist movement began and artists like Picasso, Utrillo, and Toulouse-Lautrec lived, painted, and partied. The village, built on the side of a hill, is the highest point in Paris. When exploring this area, it is suggested that you take the funicular up to Sacré-Coeur basilica at dawn and watch the sunrise over Paris. We did not make it up there that early, but it was still a stunning view with Paris at our feet.
After taking in the view and watching tourists, lovers and mimes, we headed toward a beautiful pink two-storied building with green shutters: the historic La Maison Rose restaurant. Picasso and Utrillo were among the artists who ate there and painted its exterior and the surrounding neighborhood. The inside of the restaurant was as attractive as the outside with yellow walls and tiled floors. We enjoyed a meal of foie gras, walnut and blue cheese salad, duck confit, and of course wine. We ended the meal with crepes. Sitting in that bistro, one notices the light that brought artists to this village. Even in winter, it made me itch to pick up a paintbrush and absorb the scene by painting it.
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After lunch, we strolled past the cabaret Lapin Agile — French for “the agile rabbit”. It started out as a coach inn in the 1800’s and took its name from a pun by a sign painter – the agile rabbit jumping out of the cook’s pot. Picasso and the other artists frequented the bar and drank with workers and revolutionaries. It was a place to enjoy cheap food and wine and to sing folk songs or hear poetry. Picasso painted the picture, “At the Lapin Agile” in 1905. In the painting, he is dressed as a Harlequin standing next to a friend, Germaine Gargallo, who incidentally lived in La Maison Rose for forty years. Picasso gave it to the manager, Frede, who is also in the painting playing his guitar. It was probably in exchange for food and wine. In 1912, as Picasso was becoming famous, Frede sold this painting. In 1987, the painting fetched forty million dollars in auction. It hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. A quirky little fact: the only surviving vineyard in Paris is across the road from the Lapin Agile. It is about the size of a Minneapolis backyard, but it survives.
One can spend days exploring Picasso’s Paris. We did so with the help of the book Picasso’s Paris: Walking Tours of the Artist’s Life in the City by Ellen Williams. Although I have seen Picasso’s work in many museums this was like visiting a friend in his milieu.
Written by Guest contributor Ann Lonstein for EuropeUpClose.com
Ann Lonstein is a freelance writer living in Minnesota. She took her first plane ride when she emigrated from South Africa with her husband and infant son. She has not stopped flying since, and has visited many countries around the globe.
Ann can be reached at her blog, www.everyjourneytraveled.wordpress.com